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March 2019

The 22 Town Squares of Savannah

A cotton grower in the 1800s had to wait 6 months to get paid. Export markets were in Europe, sailing ships were slow, and few growers could afford to wait so long as 6 months. A handful of financiers who came to be known as the ‘cotton factors’ loaned the money to tie them over, and took their cut from the final purchase price. For a time, those men were the richest persons in the world.

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They perched atop the foot bridges and peered at the product in wagons below. Based upon what they saw, they made payment. They effectively set the worldwide price for cotton. Today it is Dubai that sets the price.

The back—or is it the front?—of the above buildings face the Savannah River and they were once warehouses for cotton. Today there are restaurants and shops, and tourism is the city’s #2 industry.

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Original Savannah is laid out in a grid pattern featuring 22 public squares, named after local or even national heroes. Washington Square is named after President George Washington. Madison Square is named after President James Madison.

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Lincoln Ave, however, is not named after Abraham Lincoln—nothing in the south is named after Abraham Lincoln, the guide told us—it is named after Benjamin Lincoln, Washington’s Secretary of War (sanitized to ‘Secretary of Defense’ today). Gnarly 400-year-old oak trees in the squares radiate limbs in a corkscrew pattern. Draped with Spanish Moss, it contributes to an eerie atmosphere at night.

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Calhoun Square is named after John C Calhoun, who never was president, but did serve as Vice-President to both Andrew Jackson and John Quincey Adams. It is unique among the squares in that, if you were to remove all cars crawling around it, the scene would be exactly the same as two centuries ago—that’s how well Savannah preserves its history. There were several other squares—even most of them, actually—that seemed to share that attribute to the untrained eye; Washington Square, for example, with a Federal style home dating to the early 1800s on one side of the square and an exact replica (dated 1989) on the other side. The statue of Stanilov Casmir, for some strange reason, is not in Casmir Square, but in Monterrey Square.

Colonial Cemetery might, at first glance, seem one of the squares, though a much enlarged one, but it is not counted as one. It has not even been a complete cemetery since Civil War times, because the Union soldiers camping out one cold overnight took to burrowing into the tombs for warmth and threw all the remains outside.

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Savannah has been the setting for many battles through the years. It is described somewhere as a “necropolis”—a city built over the dead. The guide told us of one church in which the preacher preached long to the Confederate troops, and then the following Sunday, the Union troops who had killed off the Confederate ones during the week.

Take a trolley tour if that is in the budget. You learn much that way, and can visit individual attractions later. The day after we toured Savannah, Tiger Woods won the Masters in neighboring Augusta—a very good thing since everyone loves a story of redemption. The next day, however, Notre Dame Cathedral burned and its tall spire collapsed into the main structure—a very bad thing, since it had stood for 1100 years.

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Fake News

Fake news is everywhere, and some of it surfaced about the Russian ban: ‘Church members of Russia have united! They have launched massive protests against the government in behalf of the Witnesses! President Trump rebuked Russia and invited its entire Witness population to the United States! He visited a Kingdom Hall to worship with them!’ All of it is fake news. It didn’t happen.1

Is “the news” another one of those biblical hills that melt in the last days? Is it now a thing that people of bygone days could depend upon but now need to call in Sherlock Holmes to decipher whether or not it is genuine? Is ‘reading the news’ now the information equivalent of playing Russian Roulette?

Given this apparent new normal, I will take the Trump story, fake news though it is. No, he did not speak out in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But the story plants the clear notion that he should have. Most fake news about Jehovah’s Witnesses is derogatory. It is the ‘every kind of evil’ falsely said against them. It’s about time something went our way. Now it is only a matter of time before some poor body of elders must deal with NBC or somebody attempting to set up shop in their foyer so that they can broadcast “Live from the Kingdom Hall.”

The derogatory fake news against Jehovah’s Witnesses today calls to mind the derogatory fake news against early Christians. The skeptic Caecilius of the 2nd century C.E. hurls the charge that they were “a people skulking and shunning the light, silent in public, but garrulous in corners,” who “despise honours and purple robes.” They “love one another almost before they know one another… and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters.”2

“Assuredly, this confederation ought to be rooted out and execrated,” Caecilius asserts. In the meantime, they were best advised to, if they had “any wisdom or modesty, cease from prying into the regions of the sky, and the destinies and secrets of the world: it is sufficient to look before your feet, especially for untaught, uncultivated, boorish, rustic people: they who have no capacity for understanding civil matters, are much more denied the ability to discuss divine.”3 Then, as now, explaining God was reserved for professionals. Amateurs had no business in the house of God.

 

The term was unheard of just two years ago. Now the expression “fake news” is as familiar as the Lord’s prayer. Outlets pledge to search for and destroy fake news so that others are not misled. Unfortunately, fake news can be in the eye of the beholder. Real news is but another manifestation of ‘History is written by the victors.’ It is written by the interests that have outmaneuvered the competition. There is often no way to tell if its real or not. A certain one online tweets: “Right now, everyone believes news which doesn’t fit their preconceived agenda is fake,” a situation he describes as “mental.” Would anyone like to challenge him that it is, in reality, ‘right as rain?’

From the advent of filmmaking, countless dramatic movies have ended with the whistleblower testifying before important people, and the mighty press finally publishing The Truth! The villains have been raising mayhem throughout the film trying to prevent that outcome, but at movie’s climactic end, they are thwarted! The people come to know! All of the people come to know! It is one of the most predictable plotlines of entertainment. Yet, all those movies are ridiculously dated and must be rewritten to reflect current realities. It shouldn’t be hard. It requires just an addendum that can be attached to all films. The morning after, whoever has been fingered says: “It is Fake News! People, can we just move on?” No harm done.

It will only get worse. The New York Times writes about an app that makes it “relatively easy to create realistic face swaps and leave few traces of manipulation….It’s not hard to imagine this technology’s being used to smear politicians, create counterfeit revenge porn or frame people for crimes. Lawmakers have already begun to worry about how ‘deepfakes’ could be used for political sabotage and propaganda.” The anonymous developer cheerfully helps the Times reporter try his own hand at it. “I’ve given it a lot of thought,” he [says], “and ultimately I’ve decided I don’t think it’s right to condemn the technology itself.”4 Of course not! They never do. It’s on to the next advance of science! Let the ethicists figure out what he has just dumped in their laps, something “which can of course be used for many purposes, good and bad.” It’s their problem, not his. Surely we can rely upon them to form and implement responsible policy. What’s that? We can’t? Oh, well.

Already, news sources show an eagerness to rely upon unidentified sources, who frequently turn out to be wrong. Will they handle this new advance responsibly? Not only can we expect ‘proven by video’ character assassination to become routine, but the more lasting consequence of this new technological advance will be that even genuine video evidence will be readily dismissed as fake news. It is Isaiah envisioned: “Ah! Those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness to light, and light into darkness, who change bitter to sweet, and sweet into bitter!”5 The guileless one so slandered will explode in moral indignation, and thus look guilty as hell. The professional liar will shrug it off with the feigned saddened dismay that his enemies could sink so low. It may be that “the wrath of the Lord blazes against [this] people,” but not before they have enjoyed their substantial day in the sun.

Sometimes the news is so new and unanticipated that you are hard-pressed to know whether it is fake or not. From Moscow, RT.com reporter Robert Bridge lists 10 things you probably never heard of 10 years ago. They include public statues dedicated to Satan, the accepted notion that one might have been assigned the wrong gender, widespread opioid addiction, sex with robots, college campuses where students are protected from debate, legalized marijuana, taking a knee during the national anthem, pink vagina hats, Internet appliances that spy on people, and cryptocurrencies. Dastardly space invaders from outer space will conclude there must be something in the air that they don’t dare risk catching and will hightail it back to wherever planet they came from. One is reminded of the ‘Dr. Seuss’ author’s widow, lamenting another desecration that she never thought she would live to see (the commercialization of her husband’s work): “If Ted could see this, he’d say ‘I’m glad I’m dead.’”

 

Really, is it not all fake news? Is it not an absurd drama? The Bible portrays it all as an act, an unreality, not the true life at all. Consistently, the Scriptures employ the imagery of a stage play. “For the world in its present form is passing away,” says NABRE, the ‘house’ translation for this work.6 Other translations read similarly: “Because this world in its present form is passing away.” (CEB) “For the present form of this world is passing away.” (ESV) “For the mode of this world passes away.” (HNV) “For the fashion of this world passeth away.” (KJV) “For this world in its present form is passing away.” (NIV)

“The image is drawn from a shifting scene in a play represented on the stage,” says the reference work Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Thus, the New World Translation’s rendering, “the scene of this world is changing,” is the best rendering of all, even if it is extremist.

The world is an act and the scenes are ever changing. Christians are the central actors of the play. Nearly all translations employ the word ‘spectacle,’ as in: “we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike.”7 (NABRE) The New International Reader’s Version dispenses with “spectacle” but still manages to nail the point with “We have been made a show for the whole creation to see.” The New World Translation better defines ‘spectacle’ as ‘theatrical spectacle.’ Angels and people are watching Christians. They are to become a theatrical spectacle to the world?  Very well. If that is to be their role, let them give the world some theater.

The world is stage to a play featuring heroes and villains. They are all actors. After 80 years, the curtain falls on the individual actor and it is off to the grave for him or her, to be succeeded by a fresh young face. This explains why Watchtower publications seldom name names. There is no reason to shame or honor the individual actors because it is not about them. It is about the play they are starring in. Take an actor out, and another one immediately steps into his shoes. Their names are not important. It can even be a distraction to know the names. Name a villain and you create the impression that removing that villain will solve matters. Instead, another villain assumes the role without fuss. It is the play we must follow, not the villains in it, or even the heroes.

The villains are even described in terms that make clear it is a play. The etymology of ‘hypocrite’ is that of an actor who wears a mask, just as they would do in the ancient plays. The technique served to amplify voice, hide true identity, and thereby facilitate a new role.8 Similarly, the villains in Jesus’ time routinely hid what they were. When they delivered Jesus to Pilate, they feigned concern that the government might be defrauded: “They brought charges against him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah, a king.’” They knew Pilate didn’t care about the first or the third charge, so they threw in the second to make him sit up and take notice. Opponents today of the Christian work employ similar methods.9

If the New World translators particularly identify with the image of actors on a stage, might it be because they have acted on many a stage? They are by no means Christians comfortably ensconced in academia. Every householder’s front porch is a stage, and they have starred upon countless ones. They have seen rave reviews. They have seen dismal reviews. At times, the reviewers have been so unkind as to chase them right off the stage. So, yes, they know a thing or two about being a theatrical spectacle to the world. They have seen a thing or two.

Why strut around on the stage we will leave so soon, and perhaps without dignity? If people do strut nonetheless—for humans are proud actors—should they not be read the verse: “Can you then fear mortals who die, human beings who are just grass?”10 In his day, U.S. President Ronald Reagan was arguably the most important human alive. Ten years later with Alzheimer’s, he didn’t know who he was.

As mentioned previously, the American newsman Charlie Rose interviewed Putin in 2015.11 “You have a popularity rating in Russia that would make every politician in the world envious. Why are you so popular?” Rose asked. “There is something that I have in common with every citizen of Russia, the love for our motherland,” Putin replied. Afterwards, Charlie and his team were invited to stay and have tea. “And tea turned into dinner. And the food kept coming in,” Rose said later. It was just like the state dinner of 200 years ago thrown by the czar for the fictional Horatio Hornblower and his British naval officers. It is a fine career, that of an interviewer. In an instant it was over, when Charlie was accused of sexual abuse, one of a long line of prominent men that went down in 2017. But even if it had it not ended that way, is there not an overall sad component to it? He once stated he had enjoyed a wonderful career by reason of knowing so many newsmakers. Are they really worth knowing? All they do is squabble with one another and collectively make the world a chaotic mess. I’ll take the brothers and sisters in my circuit any day.

In 2015, the Irish comedian Stephen Fry abruptly became quite serious on TV. He charged: “Why should I respect a mean-spirited, capricious, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain?” His words did not sit well with a certain person who reported him to the police. Fry discovered that he had run afoul of a blasphemy law that he had not even known existed. It was as though he was an extremist himself, nabbed for embarrassing the church people. The Irish Defamation Act would penalize any person who publishes or utters blasphemous material, and Fry was therefore investigated.12

What would Fry say to God face-to-face if he had the chance? a show host asked him on television. He answered: “I’d say ‘Bone cancer in children, what’s that about?’ How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil … Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.”

Perhaps the Russian Orthodox Church can answer his complaint. Jehovah’s Witnesses can in a heartbeat. It is even a chapter of their basic study book, What Can the Bible Teach Us, entitled Why So Much Suffering? an exploration of verses that effectively reason upon and answer the question. Through their unparalleled public ministry, Jehovah’s Witnesses make every effort to answer Fry’s grievance using the Bible, for surely it has that answer. Dominant churches jealous of their own turf try to run the Witnesses off the road so that they can answer it their way: with defamation laws when ‘God works in mysterious ways’ fails to satisfy. It is well that Russian tort lawyers, if they exist, do not understand scripture, for surely it is religious malpractice to interfere with the quest for the answers as to why there is suffering.

Nonetheless, the learned men have not figured it out, is the gist of ‘Octavius’, so what chance is there that an idiot will? ‘You see,’ Caecilius explains from the 2nd century, but he might just as well be speaking today, “all things in human affairs are doubtful, uncertain, and unsettled.” So it is to be understood that if “some, from the weariness of thoroughly investigating truth, should rashly succumb to any sort of opinion rather than persevere in exploring it with persistent diligence.” He represents those who have done “persistent diligence.” His uneducated Christian opponents do not.13 He later speaks with admiration of a certain philosopher who, “the longer his research continued, the obscurer the truth became to him.” That being so, “in my opinion also, things which are uncertain ought to be left as they are. Nor, while so many and so great men are deliberating, should we rashly and boldly give an opinion in another direction, lest either a childish superstition should be introduced.”14

The reason the great men cannot figure it out is that their wisdom has led them to make a priori assumptions that serve to screen out the true answer when it is presented to them. The ones unindoctrinated need not grapple with these red herrings—frequently they are unaware of them. It really is true that the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s eyes and that he therefore simply ignores it, giving very clear answers only to whomever is willing to extricate themselves from that quagmire.15

This explains why Witnesses of Jehovah can barely contain themselves. Fry cries out the question of the ages. There is scarcely a question more important. The great men have either argued in circles or given up. Yet his question should be answered. Jehovah’s Witnesses have really put themselves out—they have fairly turned their lives upside down—to bring that answer to him, only to be blocked by ‘respectable’ religion. It is not a matter of snatching away church members; let them claim him if they can answer his question. Unfortunately, they cannot, and they will not. They have boxed themselves in with pre-existing notions and unreasonable doctrines. So they don’t try. They take cover instead behind defamation laws. Indeed, several of their doctrines would negate the answer to Fry’s question, though biblically the answer be plain as day.

For example, it is common, upon the death of a young child, for a member of the clergy to explain it with the analogy of how God is picking flowers. It goes something like this: God has a garden; he grows pretty flowers, absolutely the best. But he needs one more. There’s one spot that’s just not right. Ah! The missing ingredient is your sole flower. He’ll pick it. Surely, you’ll be happy. What’s that? You’re not? Who would ever think such an analogy as ‘picking flowers’ would be comforting? It is monstrous. No wonder people go atheist. Take away the most precious thing a person has simply because you have an opening and expect him to be comforted over that?

The ‘picking flowers’ illustration is nowhere found in the Bible. But, just once, the Bible uses an illustration parallel in all respects except the moral, which is exactly opposite from the flower illustration! It takes place after King David, captivated over Uriah’s wife, takes her as his own, impregnates her, and silences her husband by having him killed. The passage reads:

“The LORD sent Nathan to David, and when he came to him, he said: “Tell me how you judge this case: In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers. But the poor man had nothing at all except one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children. Of what little he had she ate; from his own cup she drank; in his bosom she slept; she was like a daughter to him. Now, a visitor came to the rich man, but he spared his own flocks and herds to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him: he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David grew very angry with that man and said to Nathan: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves death! He shall make fourfold restitution for the lamb because he has done this and was unsparing. Then Nathan said to David: ‘You are the man!’”16

Now, this analogy is just! The man is not expected to be comforted that the king stole his lamb to impress his visitor. Anyone who’s ever recoiled in disgust at the ‘picking flowers’ analogy is reacting exactly as the Bible says he should! It is the clergyman who is advocating the obscene. The flower picker is not to be praised. He deserves death! Having followed the prophet Nathan’s logic, the atheists take the moral high road in this instance and kill God! The condemnation of religion at Revelation 18:24: “In her was found the blood of…all the ones who have been slaughtered on the earth,” is not due to her war-stoking record alone. It is not just due to her acts of commission; it is also due to her acts of omission. Such teachers swap Bible truth for junk food, and spiritually starved people forage on evolution and atheism for nourishment.

Since the illustration is slanderous toward God and not found in the Bible, why do so many clergy members use it? The answer is that they have bought into unscriptural and unreasonable doctrines that unfailingly paint them into moral corners. You make a god-awful mess trying to escape from these corners. The unscriptural doctrine here is: ‘When we die we don’t really die.’ That is, there is some component of us, usually called the soul, that lives on. It is immortal. Have you been good? Then death is your friend. You get promoted to heaven, and how can anyone not be happy to see good people promoted? It’s a win-win! The trouble is, people don’t behave as though it’s a win-win. People mourn at funerals, they don’t rejoice. They take a long time to readjust. Some never readjust to the death of their child; children are not supposed to die before the parent. Death is not natural. It is not a friend, as most religions would have us believe. It is an enemy.17

Returning to Fry’s complaint, note who takes the hit for religious negligence. It is God! Fry rails against God, not clergy persons and not religion! He should rail against the latter, for it is they that fail in their job to explain God. It should not be God who takes the hit. Fry simply assumes—what reasonable person would not?—that if there is an answer to a spiritual question, the self-proclaimed experts will have it. That they do not must mean that an answer does not exist. It does not occur to him that the experts are themselves misled, or in some cases even frauds. God’s reputation suffers. Even beyond addressing Fry’s righteous gripe, Jehovah’s Witnesses ardently want to defend God; after all, that is the function of a witness: to defend one who is accused.

It is a stretch, but perhaps Fry will one day come across Jehovah’s Witnesses and be puzzled at finding that they are in Russia a ‘totalitarian sect.’ It is too bad for him that they are so maligned. So fundamental are his questions of God and suffering that even if the repugnant word ‘totalitarian’ was true, he might decide to rethink his objection to it, for it is not as though anyone else in the field of religion has offered anything to satisfy his spiritual thirst. Slandering good people with charges of totalitarianism does not always work. Sometimes the contrast between the accusations and what people can see right before their eyes is too great, and people are drawn to what they might not otherwise have noticed. For some the best motivation to do something is to be told that they cannot. Might Fry be one of those people?

His words were reported to the police by “a member of the public, who asked not to be identified,” and who later explained that he (this is too much—it really is) “had not personally been offended by Fry’s comments—I added that I simply believed that the comments made by Fry were criminal blasphemy and that I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime.” If the incident mirrors the incidents of many countries, the “member of the public” was an infuriated clergyman, maybe even Dvorkin himself, who was personally offended and therefore tried to arrest the one who had insulted him and his profession. In the end, whoever it was did not succeed. Fry was not charged. It was decided to let the law slide because “no one was hurt.”

Sure, go ahead and slap down Fry, if you must. But also address his complaint. Had his complaint even once been addressed, he might not have launched his TV salvo to begin with. Few pay any attention to the Bible’s explanation of suffering because it is Jehovah’s Witnesses that offer it. As with most things, it is not what is said that is important. It is who says it. People look to a respectable source to answer such questions, for surely answers should come from someone trained in academia, they assume. “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the open squares she raises her voice,” says the proverb. ‘Nonsense!’ the world’s movers and shakers respond. ‘It cries aloud in the university campuses and quadrangles. Only ignoramuses are found on the street.’18

How a religion can be considered a respectable source while coming up empty-handed on the fundamental questions of life is a question for others to ponder. But popular religion will ever be a reflection of what people honor most, and such fundamental questions, while they may appear on the list of concerns, do not rank as highly as does fitting in with the world’s overall aims and thereby enjoying respectability.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, who, at significant expense and inconvenience, have put themselves out to answer questions like Fry’s, should not be impeded. Let’s face it—one builds up some ‘street cred’ through such an unpaid public ministry. There is nothing in it for them. Sure, it can be spun in a derisive manner by persons intent on that aim: that they have a ‘need’ to validate themselves or a ‘need’ to be right. But it is better to take it at face value: as doing a good deed. Witnesses understand kingdom preaching as a Christian duty dictated by love of God, for he is the one who gets slammed—and for neighbor, for they are the ones who suffer for it. If you have knowledge, you don’t just sit on it. How loving would that be? You light the lamp and put it on a lampstand.

 

After 45 years, I reconnected with an old friend. It was the friend who had ribbed me mercilessly about the United Nations when I had first become a Witness. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a unique understanding of that world body—that it is the ‘image of the wild beast’ of Revelation. The wild beast is the worldwide political system and it has ‘breathed life’ into the image of the wild beast, which is thereby empowered to govern the entire earth as a single organization, something its individual components have proved unable to do. It represents worldwide government by man instead of worldwide government by God, and thus it finds itself in the crosshairs of biblical interpretation.19

It is also in its second life. Its first life was as the League of Nations, formed to maintain peace following World War I. The League failed twenty years after its inception, powerless to dissuade factions gearing up for a repeat war, but the concept was resurrected after World War II as the United Nations. Even this resurrection fits in with a Revelation verse: “The beast that you saw existed once but now exists no longer. It will come up from the abyss…”20 Watchtower President Nathan Knorr predicted the ‘beast’s’ reappearance at a 1942 convention, while the entire world was for the second time at war.21 

The two diverging views over just who should govern humankind—man or God—split decisively in 1919. The newly formed League was hailed by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in America as “not a mere political expedient; it is rather the political expression of the kingdom of God on earth.” Jehovah’s Witnesses, their head ones just released from Atlanta prison for alleged violation of the 1918 Espionage and Sedition Act, promptly regrouped and announced at a landmark convention: “Behold, the King reigns! You are his publicity agents. Therefore advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom,” government by God.22 The contrast could not have been more stark. 

Now, I knew the preceding only vaguely at the time, and my friend did not know it at all. His picture of the United Nations had been forged as a child, as had mine. It was the organization that collected money for the eradication of disease. As a child I had carried one of their milk cartons modified to collect coins for just that purpose—what on earth could be wrong with that? My friend harped and harped on it and I finally told him that it was just a footnote, not a big deal, and that he should give it a rest.

The circuit overseer was to visit our congregation and there was to be a special slide presentation. I invited my friend and gave him to understand that, in view of his giving me nothing but grief about my new faith, if he attended this one meeting I would consider that he had given it a fair shake and would thereafter shut up about it. He came and was shoehorned into a crowded Kingdom Hall. All was going well, and I was happy that he was receiving ‘a witness,’ but toward the end of the presentation a slide displayed the U.N. building rent in two by a lightning bolt from heaven! an image that I had never seen before and do not think I have seen since. I should have invited the Soviet leaders instead of my friends, for they would have cheered; Russia routinely got shellacked in the Security Council back then, ever outvoted by the pro-West majority. Putin himself (I am playing a bit here) might even have removed and pounded his shoe in appreciation at that Kingdom Hall meeting, just as Khrushchev had done years before at the U.N itself. But I hadn’t invited the Soviet leaders. I had invited my friend, and I kept my end of the bargain to witness to him no more, with but occasional relapses—for after all, I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Meanwhile, the United Nations continues to function until the world ignores it to embark upon WWIII, but since that has not yet happened, perhaps it must be granted some credit. Every once in a while, I am told, it contacts the Watchtower Society to ask them if they would please drop this ‘wild beast spiel.’

Anyhow, I caught up with my friend again after 45 years. He had been a heavy smoker back in the day and he was now dependent upon an oxygen tank, which impeded his mobility. Who was it that said we spend the first third of our lives ensuring that the final third will be miserable? Once long ago I had commented on that delicious aroma of a newly lit cigarette. “Every puff is like that when you are a smoker,” he replied. Yet now he crusades to dissuade others from that course.

The zealots of New York State bombard me with graphic anti-smoking TV ads, as though intent on spoiling my dinner. Visiting with my old friend was more effective. I thanked Jehovah, for it easily could have been me. I easily could have been funneled into it, for it was all the rage once and it is not to my credit that I abstained. The year I was baptized smoking became an offense for which one could be expelled from the congregation. Some had the most difficult struggle quitting. Some didn’t quit and ceased association with the religion. Yet seeing my old friend, who had lived a life of both joys and sorrows, knowing it will likely be cut short due to the tobacco—it made me grateful for that firmness. Though Witness detractors today complain about many a freedom-restricting policy, I have never known any to complain of this one, which must have saved countless thousands of lives. Should a safety-conscious world ever focus on Witnesses shunning tobacco, drugs, alcohol abuse and warfare, it might mandate that everyone sign on.

My friend will die younger than otherwise, most likely. Yet, is it not but fake news that 80 years and then death is all we should expect? Those of this world settle for so little. If Google and Facebook filter out the fake news of the present, why should not Jehovah’s Witnesses filter out the fake news of the future? If only the Church would do it. Then Witnesses wouldn’t have to. Everlasting life on earth under kingdom rule is the Bible hope. Death in the Adamic system of things is not permanent.  “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping in death, so that you may not sorrow as the rest do who have no hope,” Paul writes.23 ‘Yes, we do,’ the Church says in effect. ‘Stay ignorant.’

The overall church world will not explain about those ‘sleeping in death.’ They cannot. They have it all backwards and they present death as part of God’s plan. They portray it as is a friend, whereas the Bible clearly says it is an enemy and not part of God’s plan at all. Live a few decades on a trialsome earth, then (if you are good) get promoted to heaven, they say. It is all wrong. It is all unscriptural. Earth is our intended home, the Bible says. While it is true some end up in heaven, it is a tiny group for a special purpose—to rule with Christ as ‘kings over the earth.’ How many nations consist of only kings?24 Religion finds the doctrine that all are heaven-bound hard to convey to young skeptics. It makes no sense to them. Why didn’t God put them there in the first place if that’s where he wanted them? Nor does that hope strike most of them as desirable. They like it here, they point out, or at least they would if humans would stop fouling the nest. What would they ever do with themselves in heaven?

The ban impedes Russian citizens from getting a straight answer to another one of the greatest mysteries of all time: what happens at death? Is this life all there is? Why does Genesis tell of people living 900 years back in that time? What does that portend? Is it really because they measured time differently, as the Presbyterian pastor told me? If so, why do later generations live just 500 years and later still, 200, eventually dropping to 30 or so during the Dark Ages before a reapplication of sanitation principles found in the Torah bounces lifespans back up to the present 80, like a correction in a plummeting stock market?25

 

Social media can induce depression. Regularly this is heard in the West. ‘My online friends’ lives are so exciting—always they are posting interesting things,’ people say, ‘but my life is so dull.’ Facebook itself is fake news, distorting reality! But even if it did not, even if it relayed the present life accurately, is not this entire world of human devising fake news: ever overpromising and underdelivering? Is not everything outside of spiritual matters fake news? Or at least besides-the-point news. If someone breaks through the fake news to discover the real stuff, as Jehovah’s Witnesses think they have done, can anyone think that one will be satisfied with the fake news again?

Living forever on a paradise earth sounds like a fairy tale. Why expect anyone to waste their time obsessing about that? But it also sounds very good. If the time involved to investigate is substantial or the cost prohibitive, one might expect people to dismiss the notion out of hand. But if the time involved is modest, and the cost is free, some will decide to look into it. They’ll appreciate that someone has gone to a lot of trouble in order to bring that message to them; a free home Bible study to the general public is the signature offer of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Once a person has had the satisfaction of assembling the puzzle pieces that are the Bible, replicating the portrait of the puppy dog or mountain range on the box cover, he is immune to the critic who says he put it together wrong. He is especially immune if that critic’s own puzzle lies unassembled in the box on his closet shelf. Afterwards, with puzzle completed, he is even immune when he is cruising down the highway at full throttle, and the critical atheist on the radio tells him his car doesn’t run.

The puzzle cannot be assembled in church. Too many pieces have been altered and they no longer fit together. It was the same in the first century. In an effort to stay popular and contemporary, the establishment tampered with the pieces, to the point where those pieces became fodder for theological rumination, but roadblocks to actual understanding. Though there were plenty of (Jewish) priests back then, it was for the nascent Christianity’s Phillip to approach the traveling court official who was reading aloud Isaiah. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked him. “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” was the reply.26

The reconstructed box cover picture is the answer to everything of consequence. God wants us to have it. He wants us to seek and find him. He is “not far from any one of us.”27 If you destroy the puzzle pieces, it is hard to assemble anything that makes sense. Witnesses only want to clarify and preserve the pieces so that the puzzle can be put together. They are guardians of doctrine in that regard. It hardly makes them extremist. Rather, it makes them essential.

Most church teachings are not plainly found in the Bible. The attempt to read them in causes people to throw up their hands in despair of ever understanding the book. The Trinity teaching makes God incomprehensible. The hellfire teaching makes him cruel; Isaac Asimov was not off-base when he likened the hellfire teaching to “the drooling dream of a sadist.”  Both doctrines are components of the fake news of religion that was carted out to the curb 100 years ago by early Watchtower associates acting as ‘the messenger preparing the way.’ When you ‘prepare the way’ for any sort of building project, carting out the trash is the first thing you must do. Thereafter you don’t obsess over it. You needn’t tell Waste Management why the contents of the dumpster must go. Accordingly, Watchtower publications rarely mention the trash these days. They are content to provide a toolbox containing a few specialized brochures and magazines to reason with those outside who yet hold onto the old doctrines. But for congregation members they get on with the essence of Christian living.

Christ went under the water in baptism and so did Christians. When they emerge, it is symbolically as with a new personality. He was nailed to the stake. That’s what happened to the old personality of Christians as well. The symbolism helps them with their resolve to continue stripping off the old personality and donning the one that is Christ’s. Squabbling over the trash will have a place so long as there are people who think it is really valuable stuff, but the true power of Christianity lies elsewhere. The verses that can be used to refute the Trinity doctrine were not written for that purpose. Reaching for maturity, the Christian explores the purposes for which they were written.28

Many a person brave on the battlefield cowers at the prospect of discussing spiritual things with a visiting Witness. He worries that his choice weapon, “I never speak of religion or politics,” may not be enough to drive off the assailer. Deep down inside he may suspect that he probably should care more about spiritual things than he actually does, for he has heard, and it sounds laudable, that ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’ Perhaps it is even as Mathew 5:3 says: that the ones conscious of their spiritual needs are the ones who will ultimately be happy. They will seek to fill those needs.  All persons have spiritual needs, but they are not necessarily conscious of them, just as they are not necessarily conscious of the need for vitamins. Neglect them at your own peril. One gets sicker and sicker without ever quite knowing why. Strangely, few Bibles are so clear as the New World translation in rendering the expression ‘conscious as to spiritual needs.’ Most settle for an incomprehensible ‘blessed are the poor in spirit,’ or ‘beggars of the spirit.’ If you beg for something, surely you are aware that you need it. Except for the New World Translation, the passage is obscure. Russians will have to ask their relatives across the border to look that verse up for them.

 

I like the Peter Sellers movie Being There, in which Chauncy very slowly explains to political leaders how one season follows another. They treat him with the greatest deference and assume that he is speaking so slowly so as to allow them to grasp the economic implications of allowing the business cycle to play out. In actuality, he is a mentally challenged man who has difficulty recalling the order of the seasons. The assumptions of the learned are often fake news. The emperor often parades around in invisible clothes and only the children spot it as fake.

Is insistence upon critical thinking, all the rage today, and enjoying a resurgence from the time of Caecilius, among the greatest facilitators of fake news? Criticalthinking.org laments that “much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced….Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.” The web writer assumes that is possible. He continues: “Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.” Manifestly, this way of thought appeals to persons who are fond of ‘self.’ Critical thought “presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.”29 Is not the devil in what it “presupposes?”

Consider the role critical thinking might have played in a 2009 diplomatic spat between Britain and China. The Chinese authorities had just executed a British citizen for drug trafficking in their country, the first such execution since the 1950s. The British had wanted him spared owing to his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. They’d lobbied hard for that outcome. When it didn’t happen, British Prime Minister Brown cried: “I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted.…I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken. But China would have none of it. “Nobody has the right to speak ill of China’s judicial sovereignty,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. “We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition over the groundless British accusations. We urge the British side to mend its errors and avoid damaging China-British relations.”30

What is dealt with here are differing cultural attitudes towards social policy, criminal conduct, mental illness, personal responsibility, individual rights, and drug use. These are values. Just how does ‘critical thinking’ sort out the interplay between them? For the most part, the two citizenries lined up with the viewpoints of their respective governments. Was critical thinking only to be found among one or the other population? If so, which one? It was China that played the ‘critical thinking’ card first. “We hope that the British side can view this matter rationally,” Jiang said. Why didn’t the Brits think of enshrouding their plea in rationality? Too late now. China beat them to it, and now the British are, by default, irrational.

For all the brouhaha over critical thinking, pigs will fly before nations give up cherished norms forged over decades, even centuries. Critical thinking has its place. There are some areas where it alone delivers. But it is never the be-all and end-all. Don’t let its staunch advocates tell you that they have uncovered the nirvana to establishing truth. They are too quick to presuppose that they are the guardians thereof. From their ranks comes the too-confident person who does not suffer fools gladly—and a fool is anyone with whom he disagrees. His fake news is the most pernicious of all because he takes it as a matter of faith that his method makes him impervious to fakery.

The experience of unity is a profound draw for Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a profound “taste and see that God is good.”31 There are ever so many Witness opponents online, and many of them once were Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. Judging from what they write, it is safe to say that they would not be able to tolerate one another outside of the Internet, where they have united for common cause. They can and doubtless do snipe at each other endlessly on other venues, perhaps over Trump/Hillary, or God/no God, or global warming/global denying, or medicine/alt medicine. They should embrace the world they have collectively chosen. When they see mayhem on TV—embrace it, it is theirs. They once had unity. There were once able to sacrifice some petty freedoms in order to grasp significant ones. But now it is the petty they cherish. It is the ‘Dreamers’ who dream only of where they can suffer the fewest people telling them what to do and where they can make the most money.

When critical thinking is turned upon the Bible itself, the book promptly disintegrates. The reason Jehovah’s Witnesses can look at the Bible as they do is because they have ‘tasted and seen that the LORD is good.’ It is the heart molded by experience and focused effort. But if you hail from the world of criticism, you cannot conceive of unity. You have never seen it. Leave these people to their own devices and there is no Bible book written as presented. Every one of them is a hash of conflicting writers with warring agendas. It is the only reality such scholars have ever experienced, and it colors all their scholarship.  Assumptions matter. The course of justice is altered when “innocent until proven guilty” becomes “guilty until proved innocent.” One can demonstrate that the Bible is reasonable, but one cannot prove it. Nor can one prove the opposite. Primarily, it is ‘taste and see.’ In mile-high Denver, Colorado, people believe in floods. They believe in them in New Orleans, too, below sea level, but the quality of their belief differs, for they have ‘tasted and seen’ floods.

Critical thinkers who have not seen unity, save in tyrannical settings, assume it does not exist. Their world is one of critical argument. Their vehemence in argument is emblematic of why it does not work. No attempt is made to relate to the other side. The intent is only to demolish it. Sometimes I worry that their cherished evolution is true and that they are the final product of it. If so, kiss any prospects of getting along goodbye. The trouble with critical thinking is that its proponents invariably assume that they have a lock on the stuff and that, consequently, their role is to correct others.

Some years back I conversed with one of these fellows at his door. He insisted that I define all my terms, interrupting me frequently to that end. If I said “religion,” for example, he said “define religion.” If I said “God,” he said “define God.” If I said “system,” he said “define system.” This happened four or five times and, in an effort to break the mood, find common ground, and simply be pleasant, I commented upon his steep driveway—that it must make for challenging driving in the winter. He corrected me! He had planned it at exactly the right pitch and composition and alignment toward the sun, so that, on days the sun appeared, ice would melt before he had to traverse it. “He even argued about his driveway!” my dumbfounded companion said, as we walked down it.

Jesus cares little about the head, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not especially ‘heady.’ For every appeal Jesus makes to the mind, he makes ten to the heart, spinning parables that he rarely explains. Even when he offers explanation, it is not such that it would satisfy the critical thinker. Perhaps he does it so that the latter, too impressed with their own wisdom and demands for proof, will argue themselves right off the deck of the ship before it reaches its destination. Says the Lord: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because “they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: “You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.”32

Cherished methods of argumentation are not the Christian priority. Jesus freely utilizes hyperbole, a device which may so frustrate the critical thinker that he is apt to label it simply an untruth. So be it. In his own way, he is as rigid as is the fundamentalist who would take the expression ‘crocodile tears’ to mean that (I am exaggerating here just a bit) whoever is being spoken of is a crocodile. Of course, one must strive to make sense, for “Paul joined them, and for three Sabbaths he entered into discussions with them from the scriptures, expounding and demonstrating that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead, and that ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus, whom I proclaim to you.’” One must be like the Beroeans and check that all things told really can be established.33 But one needn’t feel constrained to follow the rules of a world that worships critical thinking, since it sometimes is their first rule that you can’t move any of your pieces. If they shriek that you have raised a strawman, point out that Jesus wants men of all sorts to be saved—even straw men. There’s nothing wrong with strawmen. They are used in the Bible frequently. They are a fine rhetorical means of telling an unreasonable person: ‘Your point is too silly to merit a serious response,’ just as in the Star Trek episode wherein Mr. Spock promises to give Dr. McCoy’s suggestion all the attention it merits. He pauses a split second, then proceeds with his business.

The mind does not run the show. Judging from how seldom Jesus appeals to it as opposed to the heart, it never did. It is the heart that decides what it wants. It then employs the mind to cloak around its desire a veneer of respectable rationality, if such can be arranged. If it cannot, the heart just makes a grab for what it wants and charges the head to devise a rationale whenever it gets around to it.

Critical thinking cannot save us. Many things today are, for all practical purposes, unknowable, with endless permutations that can be spun in endless ways, often deliberately, by ones of vested interests who wish to muddy the waters. One must look to the heart for guidance, and even leadership. The head will catch up in time. Max Planck the physicist, surely one who appreciated critical thinking, observed: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Even that statement presupposes that the new truths accepted after a generation truly are truths. It is not inevitable that they are. They are sometimes the mountains and hills that crumble just when you must lean upon them the most.

There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false, says John P. A. Ioannidis in an abstract to a study examining the topic. “Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.”34 Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the Lancet, adds: “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”35 Dr. Marcia Angell writes similarly: “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.”36

The devotees of reason toil away at their favorite model and do not notice when their tools are hijacked by sinister forces. Sometimes it is ego. Other times it is money. The majority team gets the ball, tilts the field against the minority team, and may even seek to obliterate them. Many things established have been established by decree. Many things proven have been proven by ignoring evidence to the contrary. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” stated Upton Sinclair. A foremost observation of critical thinking ought to be that we are not very good at it.

Critical thinking is a tool only as good as those who would wield it. The typical person has much on his plate and cannot be expected to uncover the ruses. He is safeguarded only when he assumes that ‘science,’ like everything else in this world, is contaminated. It is frequently enough trumped by money or politics that it must be never be taken as an absolute. It’s great stuff, science is. Pour me a double-shot of it. But it must not be relied upon as the primary means of establishing truth. One need not be overly concerned over the latest decree of contemporary science. Sometimes it changes. Even though it be a tsunami. it reverses course and goes right back into the hole from which it came.

The greater world recommends attaining wisdom. So, too, does the Bible. But the two brands are not the same. In some respects, they are polar opposites. “The wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits,” says the Bible.36 ‘Peaceful and gentle?’ The world would say no. ‘Compliant?’ It is a quality inviting contempt. ‘Full of mercy and good fruits?’ No. It goes where it goes and takes umbrage should anyone impose upon it standards of good or bad. The two brands are not the same. Either the wisdom of the Bible is foolish, or the wisdom of this world is.

Is this why those who accept the Bible as presented by Jehovah’s Witnesses do so in the first place? They conclude that the Bible’s wisdom is better. Upon investigation, they see the diverse pieces come together to reveal the vista on the box cover. They taste and see that Jehovah is good. The latter has nothing to do with critical thinking, the former only marginally so. The critical thinker would first analyze the pieces in close detail, find blemishes in each, and thereby throw them all away.

Anyone reading through the Old Testament cannot but help pick up the refrain, the rundown of God’s dealing with Israel: “I let my people get beat up because they were too bad for too long. But then the nations said: ‘Look! God cannot protect his own people!’ So I beat them up too. And I brought my own people back just to show them.” It is no more complicated than that with the great God of all creation? No. It is not. Sometimes we can overthink things. Though his wisdom surpasses all understanding and we can see only the fringe of his ways, when he chooses to relate to humans, he is breathtaking in his pedestrian common sense. He is not ashamed of it. He glorifies it.38

Fake news is everywhere, and some of it surfaced about the Russian ban: ‘Church members of Russia have united! They have launched massive protests against the government in behalf of the Witnesses! President Trump rebuked Russia and invited its entire Witness population to the United States! He visited a Kingdom Hall to worship with them!’ All of it is fake news. It didn’t happen.1

Is “the news” another one of those biblical hills that melt in the last days? Is it now a thing that people of bygone days could depend upon but now need to call in Sherlock Holmes to decipher whether or not it is genuine? Is ‘reading the news’ now the information equivalent of playing Russian Roulette?

Given this apparent new normal, I will take the Trump story, fake news though it is. No, he did not speak out in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But the story plants the clear notion that he should have. Most fake news about Jehovah’s Witnesses is derogatory. It is the ‘every kind of evil’ falsely said against them. It’s about time something went our way. Now it is only a matter of time before some poor body of elders must deal with NBC or somebody attempting to set up shop in their foyer so that they can broadcast “Live from the Kingdom Hall.”

The derogatory fake news against Jehovah’s Witnesses today calls to mind the derogatory fake news against early Christians. The skeptic Caecilius of the 2nd century C.E. hurls the charge that they were “a people skulking and shunning the light, silent in public, but garrulous in corners,” who “despise honours and purple robes.” They “love one another almost before they know one another… and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters.”2

“Assuredly, this confederation ought to be rooted out and execrated,” Caecilius asserts. In the meantime, they were best advised to, if they had “any wisdom or modesty, cease from prying into the regions of the sky, and the destinies and secrets of the world: it is sufficient to look before your feet, especially for untaught, uncultivated, boorish, rustic people: they who have no capacity for understanding civil matters, are much more denied the ability to discuss divine.”3 Then, as now, explaining God was reserved for professionals. Amateurs had no business in the house of God.

 

The term was unheard of just two years ago. Now the expression “fake news” is as familiar as the Lord’s prayer. Outlets pledge to search for and destroy fake news so that others are not misled. Unfortunately, fake news can be in the eye of the beholder. Real news is but another manifestation of ‘History is written by the victors.’ It is written by the interests that have outmaneuvered the competition. There is often no way to tell if its real or not. A certain one online tweets: “Right now, everyone believes news which doesn’t fit their preconceived agenda is fake,” a situation he describes as “mental.” Would anyone like to challenge him that it is, in reality, ‘right as rain?’

From the advent of filmmaking, countless dramatic movies have ended with the whistleblower testifying before important people, and the mighty press finally publishing The Truth! The villains have been raising mayhem throughout the film trying to prevent that outcome, but at movie’s climactic end, they are thwarted! The people come to know! All of the people come to know! It is one of the most predictable plotlines of entertainment. Yet, all those movies are ridiculously dated and must be rewritten to reflect current realities. It shouldn’t be hard. It requires just an addendum that can be attached to all films. The morning after, whoever has been fingered says: “It is Fake News! People, can we just move on?” No harm done.

It will only get worse. The New York Times writes about an app that makes it “relatively easy to create realistic face swaps and leave few traces of manipulation….It’s not hard to imagine this technology’s being used to smear politicians, create counterfeit revenge porn or frame people for crimes. Lawmakers have already begun to worry about how ‘deepfakes’ could be used for political sabotage and propaganda.” The anonymous developer cheerfully helps the Times reporter try his own hand at it. “I’ve given it a lot of thought,” he [says], “and ultimately I’ve decided I don’t think it’s right to condemn the technology itself.”4 Of course not! They never do. It’s on to the next advance of science! Let the ethicists figure out what he has just dumped in their laps, something “which can of course be used for many purposes, good and bad.” It’s their problem, not his. Surely we can rely upon them to form and implement responsible policy. What’s that? We can’t? Oh, well.

Already, news sources show an eagerness to rely upon unidentified sources, who frequently turn out to be wrong. Will they handle this new advance responsibly? Not only can we expect ‘proven by video’ character assassination to become routine, but the more lasting consequence of this new technological advance will be that even genuine video evidence will be readily dismissed as fake news. It is Isaiah envisioned: “Ah! Those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness to light, and light into darkness, who change bitter to sweet, and sweet into bitter!”5 The guileless one so slandered will explode in moral indignation, and thus look guilty as hell. The professional liar will shrug it off with the feigned saddened dismay that his enemies could sink so low. It may be that “the wrath of the Lord blazes against [this] people,” but not before they have enjoyed their substantial day in the sun.

Sometimes the news is so new and unanticipated that you are hard-pressed to know whether it is fake or not. From Moscow, RT.com reporter Robert Bridge lists 10 things you probably never heard of 10 years ago. They include public statues dedicated to Satan, the accepted notion that one might have been assigned the wrong gender, widespread opioid addiction, sex with robots, college campuses where students are protected from debate, legalized marijuana, taking a knee during the national anthem, pink vagina hats, Internet appliances that spy on people, and cryptocurrencies. Dastardly space invaders from outer space will conclude there must be something in the air that they don’t dare risk catching and will hightail it back to wherever planet they came from. One is reminded of the ‘Dr. Seuss’ author’s widow, lamenting another desecration that she never thought she would live to see (the commercialization of her husband’s work): “If Ted could see this, he’d say ‘I’m glad I’m dead.’”

 

Really, is it not all fake news? Is it not an absurd drama? The Bible portrays it all as an act, an unreality, not the true life at all. Consistently, the Scriptures employ the imagery of a stage play. “For the world in its present form is passing away,” says NABRE, the ‘house’ translation for this work.6 Other translations read similarly: “Because this world in its present form is passing away.” (CEB) “For the present form of this world is passing away.” (ESV) “For the mode of this world passes away.” (HNV) “For the fashion of this world passeth away.” (KJV) “For this world in its present form is passing away.” (NIV)

“The image is drawn from a shifting scene in a play represented on the stage,” says the reference work Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Thus, the New World Translation’s rendering, “the scene of this world is changing,” is the best rendering of all, even if it is extremist.

The world is an act and the scenes are ever changing. Christians are the central actors of the play. Nearly all translations employ the word ‘spectacle,’ as in: “we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike.”7 (NABRE) The New International Reader’s Version dispenses with “spectacle” but still manages to nail the point with “We have been made a show for the whole creation to see.” The New World Translation better defines ‘spectacle’ as ‘theatrical spectacle.’ Angels and people are watching Christians. They are to become a theatrical spectacle to the world?  Very well. If that is to be their role, let them give the world some theater.

The world is stage to a play featuring heroes and villains. They are all actors. After 80 years, the curtain falls on the individual actor and it is off to the grave for him or her, to be succeeded by a fresh young face. This explains why Watchtower publications seldom name names. There is no reason to shame or honor the individual actors because it is not about them. It is about the play they are starring in. Take an actor out, and another one immediately steps into his shoes. Their names are not important. It can even be a distraction to know the names. Name a villain and you create the impression that removing that villain will solve matters. Instead, another villain assumes the role without fuss. It is the play we must follow, not the villains in it, or even the heroes.

The villains are even described in terms that make clear it is a play. The etymology of ‘hypocrite’ is that of an actor who wears a mask, just as they would do in the ancient plays. The technique served to amplify voice, hide true identity, and thereby facilitate a new role.8 Similarly, the villains in Jesus’ time routinely hid what they were. When they delivered Jesus to Pilate, they feigned concern that the government might be defrauded: “They brought charges against him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah, a king.’” They knew Pilate didn’t care about the first or the third charge, so they threw in the second to make him sit up and take notice. Opponents today of the Christian work employ similar methods.9

If the New World translators particularly identify with the image of actors on a stage, might it be because they have acted on many a stage? They are by no means Christians comfortably ensconced in academia. Every householder’s front porch is a stage, and they have starred upon countless ones. They have seen rave reviews. They have seen dismal reviews. At times, the reviewers have been so unkind as to chase them right off the stage. So, yes, they know a thing or two about being a theatrical spectacle to the world. They have seen a thing or two.

Why strut around on the stage we will leave so soon, and perhaps without dignity? If people do strut nonetheless—for humans are proud actors—should they not be read the verse: “Can you then fear mortals who die, human beings who are just grass?”10 In his day, U.S. President Ronald Reagan was arguably the most important human alive. Ten years later with Alzheimer’s, he didn’t know who he was.

As mentioned previously, the American newsman Charlie Rose interviewed Putin in 2015.11 “You have a popularity rating in Russia that would make every politician in the world envious. Why are you so popular?” Rose asked. “There is something that I have in common with every citizen of Russia, the love for our motherland,” Putin replied. Afterwards, Charlie and his team were invited to stay and have tea. “And tea turned into dinner. And the food kept coming in,” Rose said later. It was just like the state dinner of 200 years ago thrown by the czar for the fictional Horatio Hornblower and his British naval officers. It is a fine career, that of an interviewer. In an instant it was over, when Charlie was accused of sexual abuse, one of a long line of prominent men that went down in 2017. But even if it had it not ended that way, is there not an overall sad component to it? He once stated he had enjoyed a wonderful career by reason of knowing so many newsmakers. Are they really worth knowing? All they do is squabble with one another and collectively make the world a chaotic mess. I’ll take the brothers and sisters in my circuit any day.

In 2015, the Irish comedian Stephen Fry abruptly became quite serious on TV. He charged: “Why should I respect a mean-spirited, capricious, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain?” His words did not sit well with a certain person who reported him to the police. Fry discovered that he had run afoul of a blasphemy law that he had not even known existed. It was as though he was an extremist himself, nabbed for embarrassing the church people. The Irish Defamation Act would penalize any person who publishes or utters blasphemous material, and Fry was therefore investigated.12

What would Fry say to God face-to-face if he had the chance? a show host asked him on television. He answered: “I’d say ‘Bone cancer in children, what’s that about?’ How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil … Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.”

Perhaps the Russian Orthodox Church can answer his complaint. Jehovah’s Witnesses can in a heartbeat. It is even a chapter of their basic study book, What Can the Bible Teach Us, entitled Why So Much Suffering? an exploration of verses that effectively reason upon and answer the question. Through their unparalleled public ministry, Jehovah’s Witnesses make every effort to answer Fry’s grievance using the Bible, for surely it has that answer. Dominant churches jealous of their own turf try to run the Witnesses off the road so that they can answer it their way: with defamation laws when ‘God works in mysterious ways’ fails to satisfy. It is well that Russian tort lawyers, if they exist, do not understand scripture, for surely it is religious malpractice to interfere with the quest for the answers as to why there is suffering.

Nonetheless, the learned men have not figured it out, is the gist of ‘Octavius’, so what chance is there that an idiot will? ‘You see,’ Caecilius explains from the 2nd century, but he might just as well be speaking today, “all things in human affairs are doubtful, uncertain, and unsettled.” So it is to be understood that if “some, from the weariness of thoroughly investigating truth, should rashly succumb to any sort of opinion rather than persevere in exploring it with persistent diligence.” He represents those who have done “persistent diligence.” His uneducated Christian opponents do not.13 He later speaks with admiration of a certain philosopher who, “the longer his research continued, the obscurer the truth became to him.” That being so, “in my opinion also, things which are uncertain ought to be left as they are. Nor, while so many and so great men are deliberating, should we rashly and boldly give an opinion in another direction, lest either a childish superstition should be introduced.”14

The reason the great men cannot figure it out is that their wisdom has led them to make a priori assumptions that serve to screen out the true answer when it is presented to them. The ones unindoctrinated need not grapple with these red herrings—frequently they are unaware of them. It really is true that the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s eyes and that he therefore simply ignores it, giving very clear answers only to whomever is willing to extricate themselves from that quagmire.15

This explains why Witnesses of Jehovah can barely contain themselves. Fry cries out the question of the ages. There is scarcely a question more important. The great men have either argued in circles or given up. Yet his question should be answered. Jehovah’s Witnesses have really put themselves out—they have fairly turned their lives upside down—to bring that answer to him, only to be blocked by ‘respectable’ religion. It is not a matter of snatching away church members; let them claim him if they can answer his question. Unfortunately, they cannot, and they will not. They have boxed themselves in with pre-existing notions and unreasonable doctrines. So they don’t try. They take cover instead behind defamation laws. Indeed, several of their doctrines would negate the answer to Fry’s question, though biblically the answer be plain as day.

For example, it is common, upon the death of a young child, for a member of the clergy to explain it with the analogy of how God is picking flowers. It goes something like this: God has a garden; he grows pretty flowers, absolutely the best. But he needs one more. There’s one spot that’s just not right. Ah! The missing ingredient is your sole flower. He’ll pick it. Surely, you’ll be happy. What’s that? You’re not? Who would ever think such an analogy as ‘picking flowers’ would be comforting? It is monstrous. No wonder people go atheist. Take away the most precious thing a person has simply because you have an opening and expect him to be comforted over that?

The ‘picking flowers’ illustration is nowhere found in the Bible. But, just once, the Bible uses an illustration parallel in all respects except the moral, which is exactly opposite from the flower illustration! It takes place after King David, captivated over Uriah’s wife, takes her as his own, impregnates her, and silences her husband by having him killed. The passage reads:

“The LORD sent Nathan to David, and when he came to him, he said: “Tell me how you judge this case: In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers. But the poor man had nothing at all except one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children. Of what little he had she ate; from his own cup she drank; in his bosom she slept; she was like a daughter to him. Now, a visitor came to the rich man, but he spared his own flocks and herds to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him: he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David grew very angry with that man and said to Nathan: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves death! He shall make fourfold restitution for the lamb because he has done this and was unsparing. Then Nathan said to David: ‘You are the man!’”16

Now, this analogy is just! The man is not expected to be comforted that the king stole his lamb to impress his visitor. Anyone who’s ever recoiled in disgust at the ‘picking flowers’ analogy is reacting exactly as the Bible says he should! It is the clergyman who is advocating the obscene. The flower picker is not to be praised. He deserves death! Having followed the prophet Nathan’s logic, the atheists take the moral high road in this instance and kill God! The condemnation of religion at Revelation 18:24: “In her was found the blood of…all the ones who have been slaughtered on the earth,” is not due to her war-stoking record alone. It is not just due to her acts of commission; it is also due to her acts of omission. Such teachers swap Bible truth for junk food, and spiritually starved people forage on evolution and atheism for nourishment.

Since the illustration is slanderous toward God and not found in the Bible, why do so many clergy members use it? The answer is that they have bought into unscriptural and unreasonable doctrines that unfailingly paint them into moral corners. You make a god-awful mess trying to escape from these corners. The unscriptural doctrine here is: ‘When we die we don’t really die.’ That is, there is some component of us, usually called the soul, that lives on. It is immortal. Have you been good? Then death is your friend. You get promoted to heaven, and how can anyone not be happy to see good people promoted? It’s a win-win! The trouble is, people don’t behave as though it’s a win-win. People mourn at funerals, they don’t rejoice. They take a long time to readjust. Some never readjust to the death of their child; children are not supposed to die before the parent. Death is not natural. It is not a friend, as most religions would have us believe. It is an enemy.17

Returning to Fry’s complaint, note who takes the hit for religious negligence. It is God! Fry rails against God, not clergy persons and not religion! He should rail against the latter, for it is they that fail in their job to explain God. It should not be God who takes the hit. Fry simply assumes—what reasonable person would not?—that if there is an answer to a spiritual question, the self-proclaimed experts will have it. That they do not must mean that an answer does not exist. It does not occur to him that the experts are themselves misled, or in some cases even frauds. God’s reputation suffers. Even beyond addressing Fry’s righteous gripe, Jehovah’s Witnesses ardently want to defend God; after all, that is the function of a witness: to defend one who is accused.

It is a stretch, but perhaps Fry will one day come across Jehovah’s Witnesses and be puzzled at finding that they are in Russia a ‘totalitarian sect.’ It is too bad for him that they are so maligned. So fundamental are his questions of God and suffering that even if the repugnant word ‘totalitarian’ was true, he might decide to rethink his objection to it, for it is not as though anyone else in the field of religion has offered anything to satisfy his spiritual thirst. Slandering good people with charges of totalitarianism does not always work. Sometimes the contrast between the accusations and what people can see right before their eyes is too great, and people are drawn to what they might not otherwise have noticed. For some the best motivation to do something is to be told that they cannot. Might Fry be one of those people?

His words were reported to the police by “a member of the public, who asked not to be identified,” and who later explained that he (this is too much—it really is) “had not personally been offended by Fry’s comments—I added that I simply believed that the comments made by Fry were criminal blasphemy and that I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime.” If the incident mirrors the incidents of many countries, the “member of the public” was an infuriated clergyman, maybe even Dvorkin himself, who was personally offended and therefore tried to arrest the one who had insulted him and his profession. In the end, whoever it was did not succeed. Fry was not charged. It was decided to let the law slide because “no one was hurt.”

Sure, go ahead and slap down Fry, if you must. But also address his complaint. Had his complaint even once been addressed, he might not have launched his TV salvo to begin with. Few pay any attention to the Bible’s explanation of suffering because it is Jehovah’s Witnesses that offer it. As with most things, it is not what is said that is important. It is who says it. People look to a respectable source to answer such questions, for surely answers should come from someone trained in academia, they assume. “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the open squares she raises her voice,” says the proverb. ‘Nonsense!’ the world’s movers and shakers respond. ‘It cries aloud in the university campuses and quadrangles. Only ignoramuses are found on the street.’18

How a religion can be considered a respectable source while coming up empty-handed on the fundamental questions of life is a question for others to ponder. But popular religion will ever be a reflection of what people honor most, and such fundamental questions, while they may appear on the list of concerns, do not rank as highly as does fitting in with the world’s overall aims and thereby enjoying respectability.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, who, at significant expense and inconvenience, have put themselves out to answer questions like Fry’s, should not be impeded. Let’s face it—one builds up some ‘street cred’ through such an unpaid public ministry. There is nothing in it for them. Sure, it can be spun in a derisive manner by persons intent on that aim: that they have a ‘need’ to validate themselves or a ‘need’ to be right. But it is better to take it at face value: as doing a good deed. Witnesses understand kingdom preaching as a Christian duty dictated by love of God, for he is the one who gets slammed—and for neighbor, for they are the ones who suffer for it. If you have knowledge, you don’t just sit on it. How loving would that be? You light the lamp and put it on a lampstand.

 

After 45 years, I reconnected with an old friend. It was the friend who had ribbed me mercilessly about the United Nations when I had first become a Witness. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a unique understanding of that world body—that it is the ‘image of the wild beast’ of Revelation. The wild beast is the worldwide political system and it has ‘breathed life’ into the image of the wild beast, which is thereby empowered to govern the entire earth as a single organization, something its individual components have proved unable to do. It represents worldwide government by man instead of worldwide government by God, and thus it finds itself in the crosshairs of biblical interpretation.19

It is also in its second life. Its first life was as the League of Nations, formed to maintain peace following World War I. The League failed twenty years after its inception, powerless to dissuade factions gearing up for a repeat war, but the concept was resurrected after World War II as the United Nations. Even this resurrection fits in with a Revelation verse: “The beast that you saw existed once but now exists no longer. It will come up from the abyss…”20 Watchtower President Nathan Knorr predicted the ‘beast’s’ reappearance at a 1942 convention, while the entire world was for the second time at war.21 

The two diverging views over just who should govern humankind—man or God—split decisively in 1919. The newly formed League was hailed by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in America as “not a mere political expedient; it is rather the political expression of the kingdom of God on earth.” Jehovah’s Witnesses, their head ones just released from Atlanta prison for alleged violation of the 1918 Espionage and Sedition Act, promptly regrouped and announced at a landmark convention: “Behold, the King reigns! You are his publicity agents. Therefore advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom,” government by God.22 The contrast could not have been more stark. 

Now, I knew the preceding only vaguely at the time, and my friend did not know it at all. His picture of the United Nations had been forged as a child, as had mine. It was the organization that collected money for the eradication of disease. As a child I had carried one of their milk cartons modified to collect coins for just that purpose—what on earth could be wrong with that? My friend harped and harped on it and I finally told him that it was just a footnote, not a big deal, and that he should give it a rest.

The circuit overseer was to visit our congregation and there was to be a special slide presentation. I invited my friend and gave him to understand that, in view of his giving me nothing but grief about my new faith, if he attended this one meeting I would consider that he had given it a fair shake and would thereafter shut up about it. He came and was shoehorned into a crowded Kingdom Hall. All was going well, and I was happy that he was receiving ‘a witness,’ but toward the end of the presentation a slide displayed the U.N. building rent in two by a lightning bolt from heaven! an image that I had never seen before and do not think I have seen since. I should have invited the Soviet leaders instead of my friends, for they would have cheered; Russia routinely got shellacked in the Security Council back then, ever outvoted by the pro-West majority. Putin himself (I am playing a bit here) might even have removed and pounded his shoe in appreciation at that Kingdom Hall meeting, just as Khrushchev had done years before at the U.N itself. But I hadn’t invited the Soviet leaders. I had invited my friend, and I kept my end of the bargain to witness to him no more, with but occasional relapses—for after all, I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Meanwhile, the United Nations continues to function until the world ignores it to embark upon WWIII, but since that has not yet happened, perhaps it must be granted some credit. Every once in a while, I am told, it contacts the Watchtower Society to ask them if they would please drop this ‘wild beast spiel.’

Anyhow, I caught up with my friend again after 45 years. He had been a heavy smoker back in the day and he was now dependent upon an oxygen tank, which impeded his mobility. Who was it that said we spend the first third of our lives ensuring that the final third will be miserable? Once long ago I had commented on that delicious aroma of a newly lit cigarette. “Every puff is like that when you are a smoker,” he replied. Yet now he crusades to dissuade others from that course.

The zealots of New York State bombard me with graphic anti-smoking TV ads, as though intent on spoiling my dinner. Visiting with my old friend was more effective. I thanked Jehovah, for it easily could have been me. I easily could have been funneled into it, for it was all the rage once and it is not to my credit that I abstained. The year I was baptized smoking became an offense for which one could be expelled from the congregation. Some had the most difficult struggle quitting. Some didn’t quit and ceased association with the religion. Yet seeing my old friend, who had lived a life of both joys and sorrows, knowing it will likely be cut short due to the tobacco—it made me grateful for that firmness. Though Witness detractors today complain about many a freedom-restricting policy, I have never known any to complain of this one, which must have saved countless thousands of lives. Should a safety-conscious world ever focus on Witnesses shunning tobacco, drugs, alcohol abuse and warfare, it might mandate that everyone sign on.

My friend will die younger than otherwise, most likely. Yet, is it not but fake news that 80 years and then death is all we should expect? Those of this world settle for so little. If Google and Facebook filter out the fake news of the present, why should not Jehovah’s Witnesses filter out the fake news of the future? If only the Church would do it. Then Witnesses wouldn’t have to. Everlasting life on earth under kingdom rule is the Bible hope. Death in the Adamic system of things is not permanent.  “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping in death, so that you may not sorrow as the rest do who have no hope,” Paul writes.23 ‘Yes, we do,’ the Church says in effect. ‘Stay ignorant.’

The overall church world will not explain about those ‘sleeping in death.’ They cannot. They have it all backwards and they present death as part of God’s plan. They portray it as is a friend, whereas the Bible clearly says it is an enemy and not part of God’s plan at all. Live a few decades on a trialsome earth, then (if you are good) get promoted to heaven, they say. It is all wrong. It is all unscriptural. Earth is our intended home, the Bible says. While it is true some end up in heaven, it is a tiny group for a special purpose—to rule with Christ as ‘kings over the earth.’ How many nations consist of only kings?24 Religion finds the doctrine that all are heaven-bound hard to convey to young skeptics. It makes no sense to them. Why didn’t God put them there in the first place if that’s where he wanted them? Nor does that hope strike most of them as desirable. They like it here, they point out, or at least they would if humans would stop fouling the nest. What would they ever do with themselves in heaven?

The ban impedes Russian citizens from getting a straight answer to another one of the greatest mysteries of all time: what happens at death? Is this life all there is? Why does Genesis tell of people living 900 years back in that time? What does that portend? Is it really because they measured time differently, as the Presbyterian pastor told me? If so, why do later generations live just 500 years and later still, 200, eventually dropping to 30 or so during the Dark Ages before a reapplication of sanitation principles found in the Torah bounces lifespans back up to the present 80, like a correction in a plummeting stock market?25

 

Social media can induce depression. Regularly this is heard in the West. ‘My online friends’ lives are so exciting—always they are posting interesting things,’ people say, ‘but my life is so dull.’ Facebook itself is fake news, distorting reality! But even if it did not, even if it relayed the present life accurately, is not this entire world of human devising fake news: ever overpromising and underdelivering? Is not everything outside of spiritual matters fake news? Or at least besides-the-point news. If someone breaks through the fake news to discover the real stuff, as Jehovah’s Witnesses think they have done, can anyone think that one will be satisfied with the fake news again?

Living forever on a paradise earth sounds like a fairy tale. Why expect anyone to waste their time obsessing about that? But it also sounds very good. If the time involved to investigate is substantial or the cost prohibitive, one might expect people to dismiss the notion out of hand. But if the time involved is modest, and the cost is free, some will decide to look into it. They’ll appreciate that someone has gone to a lot of trouble in order to bring that message to them; a free home Bible study to the general public is the signature offer of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Once a person has had the satisfaction of assembling the puzzle pieces that are the Bible, replicating the portrait of the puppy dog or mountain range on the box cover, he is immune to the critic who says he put it together wrong. He is especially immune if that critic’s own puzzle lies unassembled in the box on his closet shelf. Afterwards, with puzzle completed, he is even immune when he is cruising down the highway at full throttle, and the critical atheist on the radio tells him his car doesn’t run.

The puzzle cannot be assembled in church. Too many pieces have been altered and they no longer fit together. It was the same in the first century. In an effort to stay popular and contemporary, the establishment tampered with the pieces, to the point where those pieces became fodder for theological rumination, but roadblocks to actual understanding. Though there were plenty of (Jewish) priests back then, it was for the nascent Christianity’s Phillip to approach the traveling court official who was reading aloud Isaiah. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked him. “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” was the reply.26

The reconstructed box cover picture is the answer to everything of consequence. God wants us to have it. He wants us to seek and find him. He is “not far from any one of us.”27 If you destroy the puzzle pieces, it is hard to assemble anything that makes sense. Witnesses only want to clarify and preserve the pieces so that the puzzle can be put together. They are guardians of doctrine in that regard. It hardly makes them extremist. Rather, it makes them essential.

Most church teachings are not plainly found in the Bible. The attempt to read them in causes people to throw up their hands in despair of ever understanding the book. The Trinity teaching makes God incomprehensible. The hellfire teaching makes him cruel; Isaac Asimov was not off-base when he likened the hellfire teaching to “the drooling dream of a sadist.”  Both doctrines are components of the fake news of religion that was carted out to the curb 100 years ago by early Watchtower associates acting as ‘the messenger preparing the way.’ When you ‘prepare the way’ for any sort of building project, carting out the trash is the first thing you must do. Thereafter you don’t obsess over it. You needn’t tell Waste Management why the contents of the dumpster must go. Accordingly, Watchtower publications rarely mention the trash these days. They are content to provide a toolbox containing a few specialized brochures and magazines to reason with those outside who yet hold onto the old doctrines. But for congregation members they get on with the essence of Christian living.

Christ went under the water in baptism and so did Christians. When they emerge, it is symbolically as with a new personality. He was nailed to the stake. That’s what happened to the old personality of Christians as well. The symbolism helps them with their resolve to continue stripping off the old personality and donning the one that is Christ’s. Squabbling over the trash will have a place so long as there are people who think it is really valuable stuff, but the true power of Christianity lies elsewhere. The verses that can be used to refute the Trinity doctrine were not written for that purpose. Reaching for maturity, the Christian explores the purposes for which they were written.28

Many a person brave on the battlefield cowers at the prospect of discussing spiritual things with a visiting Witness. He worries that his choice weapon, “I never speak of religion or politics,” may not be enough to drive off the assailer. Deep down inside he may suspect that he probably should care more about spiritual things than he actually does, for he has heard, and it sounds laudable, that ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’ Perhaps it is even as Mathew 5:3 says: that the ones conscious of their spiritual needs are the ones who will ultimately be happy. They will seek to fill those needs.  All persons have spiritual needs, but they are not necessarily conscious of them, just as they are not necessarily conscious of the need for vitamins. Neglect them at your own peril. One gets sicker and sicker without ever quite knowing why. Strangely, few Bibles are so clear as the New World translation in rendering the expression ‘conscious as to spiritual needs.’ Most settle for an incomprehensible ‘blessed are the poor in spirit,’ or ‘beggars of the spirit.’ If you beg for something, surely you are aware that you need it. Except for the New World Translation, the passage is obscure. Russians will have to ask their relatives across the border to look that verse up for them.

 

I like the Peter Sellers movie Being There, in which Chauncy very slowly explains to political leaders how one season follows another. They treat him with the greatest deference and assume that he is speaking so slowly so as to allow them to grasp the economic implications of allowing the business cycle to play out. In actuality, he is a mentally challenged man who has difficulty recalling the order of the seasons. The assumptions of the learned are often fake news. The emperor often parades around in invisible clothes and only the children spot it as fake.

Is insistence upon critical thinking, all the rage today, and enjoying a resurgence from the time of Caecilius, among the greatest facilitators of fake news? Criticalthinking.org laments that “much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced….Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.” The web writer assumes that is possible. He continues: “Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.” Manifestly, this way of thought appeals to persons who are fond of ‘self.’ Critical thought “presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.”29 Is not the devil in what it “presupposes?”

Consider the role critical thinking might have played in a 2009 diplomatic spat between Britain and China. The Chinese authorities had just executed a British citizen for drug trafficking in their country, the first such execution since the 1950s. The British had wanted him spared owing to his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. They’d lobbied hard for that outcome. When it didn’t happen, British Prime Minister Brown cried: “I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted.…I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken. But China would have none of it. “Nobody has the right to speak ill of China’s judicial sovereignty,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. “We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition over the groundless British accusations. We urge the British side to mend its errors and avoid damaging China-British relations.”30

What is dealt with here are differing cultural attitudes towards social policy, criminal conduct, mental illness, personal responsibility, individual rights, and drug use. These are values. Just how does ‘critical thinking’ sort out the interplay between them? For the most part, the two citizenries lined up with the viewpoints of their respective governments. Was critical thinking only to be found among one or the other population? If so, which one? It was China that played the ‘critical thinking’ card first. “We hope that the British side can view this matter rationally,” Jiang said. Why didn’t the Brits think of enshrouding their plea in rationality? Too late now. China beat them to it, and now the British are, by default, irrational.

For all the brouhaha over critical thinking, pigs will fly before nations give up cherished norms forged over decades, even centuries. Critical thinking has its place. There are some areas where it alone delivers. But it is never the be-all and end-all. Don’t let its staunch advocates tell you that they have uncovered the nirvana to establishing truth. They are too quick to presuppose that they are the guardians thereof. From their ranks comes the too-confident person who does not suffer fools gladly—and a fool is anyone with whom he disagrees. His fake news is the most pernicious of all because he takes it as a matter of faith that his method makes him impervious to fakery.

The experience of unity is a profound draw for Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a profound “taste and see that God is good.”31 There are ever so many Witness opponents online, and many of them once were Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. Judging from what they write, it is safe to say that they would not be able to tolerate one another outside of the Internet, where they have united for common cause. They can and doubtless do snipe at each other endlessly on other venues, perhaps over Trump/Hillary, or God/no God, or global warming/global denying, or medicine/alt medicine. They should embrace the world they have collectively chosen. When they see mayhem on TV—embrace it, it is theirs. They once had unity. There were once able to sacrifice some petty freedoms in order to grasp significant ones. But now it is the petty they cherish. It is the ‘Dreamers’ who dream only of where they can suffer the fewest people telling them what to do and where they can make the most money.

When critical thinking is turned upon the Bible itself, the book promptly disintegrates. The reason Jehovah’s Witnesses can look at the Bible as they do is because they have ‘tasted and seen that the LORD is good.’ It is the heart molded by experience and focused effort. But if you hail from the world of criticism, you cannot conceive of unity. You have never seen it. Leave these people to their own devices and there is no Bible book written as presented. Every one of them is a hash of conflicting writers with warring agendas. It is the only reality such scholars have ever experienced, and it colors all their scholarship.  Assumptions matter. The course of justice is altered when “innocent until proven guilty” becomes “guilty until proved innocent.” One can demonstrate that the Bible is reasonable, but one cannot prove it. Nor can one prove the opposite. Primarily, it is ‘taste and see.’ In mile-high Denver, Colorado, people believe in floods. They believe in them in New Orleans, too, below sea level, but the quality of their belief differs, for they have ‘tasted and seen’ floods.

Critical thinkers who have not seen unity, save in tyrannical settings, assume it does not exist. Their world is one of critical argument. Their vehemence in argument is emblematic of why it does not work. No attempt is made to relate to the other side. The intent is only to demolish it. Sometimes I worry that their cherished evolution is true and that they are the final product of it. If so, kiss any prospects of getting along goodbye. The trouble with critical thinking is that its proponents invariably assume that they have a lock on the stuff and that, consequently, their role is to correct others.

Some years back I conversed with one of these fellows at his door. He insisted that I define all my terms, interrupting me frequently to that end. If I said “religion,” for example, he said “define religion.” If I said “God,” he said “define God.” If I said “system,” he said “define system.” This happened four or five times and, in an effort to break the mood, find common ground, and simply be pleasant, I commented upon his steep driveway—that it must make for challenging driving in the winter. He corrected me! He had planned it at exactly the right pitch and composition and alignment toward the sun, so that, on days the sun appeared, ice would melt before he had to traverse it. “He even argued about his driveway!” my dumbfounded companion said, as we walked down it.

Jesus cares little about the head, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not especially ‘heady.’ For every appeal Jesus makes to the mind, he makes ten to the heart, spinning parables that he rarely explains. Even when he offers explanation, it is not such that it would satisfy the critical thinker. Perhaps he does it so that the latter, too impressed with their own wisdom and demands for proof, will argue themselves right off the deck of the ship before it reaches its destination. Says the Lord: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because “they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: “You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.”32

Cherished methods of argumentation are not the Christian priority. Jesus freely utilizes hyperbole, a device which may so frustrate the critical thinker that he is apt to label it simply an untruth. So be it. In his own way, he is as rigid as is the fundamentalist who would take the expression ‘crocodile tears’ to mean that (I am exaggerating here just a bit) whoever is being spoken of is a crocodile. Of course, one must strive to make sense, for “Paul joined them, and for three Sabbaths he entered into discussions with them from the scriptures, expounding and demonstrating that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead, and that ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus, whom I proclaim to you.’” One must be like the Beroeans and check that all things told really can be established.33 But one needn’t feel constrained to follow the rules of a world that worships critical thinking, since it sometimes is their first rule that you can’t move any of your pieces. If they shriek that you have raised a strawman, point out that Jesus wants men of all sorts to be saved—even straw men. There’s nothing wrong with strawmen. They are used in the Bible frequently. They are a fine rhetorical means of telling an unreasonable person: ‘Your point is too silly to merit a serious response,’ just as in the Star Trek episode wherein Mr. Spock promises to give Dr. McCoy’s suggestion all the attention it merits. He pauses a split second, then proceeds with his business.

The mind does not run the show. Judging from how seldom Jesus appeals to it as opposed to the heart, it never did. It is the heart that decides what it wants. It then employs the mind to cloak around its desire a veneer of respectable rationality, if such can be arranged. If it cannot, the heart just makes a grab for what it wants and charges the head to devise a rationale whenever it gets around to it.

Critical thinking cannot save us. Many things today are, for all practical purposes, unknowable, with endless permutations that can be spun in endless ways, often deliberately, by ones of vested interests who wish to muddy the waters. One must look to the heart for guidance, and even leadership. The head will catch up in time. Max Planck the physicist, surely one who appreciated critical thinking, observed: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Even that statement presupposes that the new truths accepted after a generation truly are truths. It is not inevitable that they are. They are sometimes the mountains and hills that crumble just when you must lean upon them the most.

There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false, says John P. A. Ioannidis in an abstract to a study examining the topic. “Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.”34 Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the Lancet, adds: “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”35 Dr. Marcia Angell writes similarly: “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.”36

The devotees of reason toil away at their favorite model and do not notice when their tools are hijacked by sinister forces. Sometimes it is ego. Other times it is money. The majority team gets the ball, tilts the field against the minority team, and may even seek to obliterate them. Many things established have been established by decree. Many things proven have been proven by ignoring evidence to the contrary. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” stated Upton Sinclair. A foremost observation of critical thinking ought to be that we are not very good at it.

Critical thinking is a tool only as good as those who would wield it. The typical person has much on his plate and cannot be expected to uncover the ruses. He is safeguarded only when he assumes that ‘science,’ like everything else in this world, is contaminated. It is frequently enough trumped by money or politics that it must be never be taken as an absolute. It’s great stuff, science is. Pour me a double-shot of it. But it must not be relied upon as the primary means of establishing truth. One need not be overly concerned over the latest decree of contemporary science. Sometimes it changes. Even though it be a tsunami. it reverses course and goes right back into the hole from which it came.

The greater world recommends attaining wisdom. So, too, does the Bible. But the two brands are not the same. In some respects, they are polar opposites. “The wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits,” says the Bible.36 ‘Peaceful and gentle?’ The world would say no. ‘Compliant?’ It is a quality inviting contempt. ‘Full of mercy and good fruits?’ No. It goes where it goes and takes umbrage should anyone impose upon it standards of good or bad. The two brands are not the same. Either the wisdom of the Bible is foolish, or the wisdom of this world is.

Is this why those who accept the Bible as presented by Jehovah’s Witnesses do so in the first place? They conclude that the Bible’s wisdom is better. Upon investigation, they see the diverse pieces come together to reveal the vista on the box cover. They taste and see that Jehovah is good. The latter has nothing to do with critical thinking, the former only marginally so. The critical thinker would first analyze the pieces in close detail, find blemishes in each, and thereby throw them all away.

Anyone reading through the Old Testament cannot but help pick up the refrain, the rundown of God’s dealing with Israel: “I let my people get beat up because they were too bad for too long. But then the nations said: ‘Look! God cannot protect his own people!’ So I beat them up too. And I brought my own people back just to show them.” It is no more complicated than that with the great God of all creation? No. It is not. Sometimes we can overthink things. Though his wisdom surpasses all understanding and we can see only the fringe of his ways, when he chooses to relate to humans, he is breathtaking in his pedestrian common sense. He is not ashamed of it. He glorifies it.38

Fake news is everywhere, and some of it surfaced about the Russian ban: ‘Church members of Russia have united! They have launched massive protests against the government in behalf of the Witnesses! President Trump rebuked Russia and invited its entire Witness population to the United States! He visited a Kingdom Hall to worship with them!’ All of it is fake news. It didn’t happen.1

Is “the news” another one of those biblical hills that melt in the last days? Is it now a thing that people of bygone days could depend upon but now need to call in Sherlock Holmes to decipher whether or not it is genuine? Is ‘reading the news’ now the information equivalent of playing Russian Roulette?

Given this apparent new normal, I will take the Trump story, fake news though it is. No, he did not speak out in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But the story plants the clear notion that he should have. Most fake news about Jehovah’s Witnesses is derogatory. It is the ‘every kind of evil’ falsely said against them. It’s about time something went our way. Now it is only a matter of time before some poor body of elders must deal with NBC or somebody attempting to set up shop in their foyer so that they can broadcast “Live from the Kingdom Hall.”

The derogatory fake news against Jehovah’s Witnesses today calls to mind the derogatory fake news against early Christians. The skeptic Caecilius of the 2nd century C.E. hurls the charge that they were “a people skulking and shunning the light, silent in public, but garrulous in corners,” who “despise honours and purple robes.” They “love one another almost before they know one another… and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters.”2

“Assuredly, this confederation ought to be rooted out and execrated,” Caecilius asserts. In the meantime, they were best advised to, if they had “any wisdom or modesty, cease from prying into the regions of the sky, and the destinies and secrets of the world: it is sufficient to look before your feet, especially for untaught, uncultivated, boorish, rustic people: they who have no capacity for understanding civil matters, are much more denied the ability to discuss divine.”3 Then, as now, explaining God was reserved for professionals. Amateurs had no business in the house of God.

 

The term was unheard of just two years ago. Now the expression “fake news” is as familiar as the Lord’s prayer. Outlets pledge to search for and destroy fake news so that others are not misled. Unfortunately, fake news can be in the eye of the beholder. Real news is but another manifestation of ‘History is written by the victors.’ It is written by the interests that have outmaneuvered the competition. There is often no way to tell if its real or not. A certain one online tweets: “Right now, everyone believes news which doesn’t fit their preconceived agenda is fake,” a situation he describes as “mental.” Would anyone like to challenge him that it is, in reality, ‘right as rain?’

From the advent of filmmaking, countless dramatic movies have ended with the whistleblower testifying before important people, and the mighty press finally publishing The Truth! The villains have been raising mayhem throughout the film trying to prevent that outcome, but at movie’s climactic end, they are thwarted! The people come to know! All of the people come to know! It is one of the most predictable plotlines of entertainment. Yet, all those movies are ridiculously dated and must be rewritten to reflect current realities. It shouldn’t be hard. It requires just an addendum that can be attached to all films. The morning after, whoever has been fingered says: “It is Fake News! People, can we just move on?” No harm done.

It will only get worse. The New York Times writes about an app that makes it “relatively easy to create realistic face swaps and leave few traces of manipulation….It’s not hard to imagine this technology’s being used to smear politicians, create counterfeit revenge porn or frame people for crimes. Lawmakers have already begun to worry about how ‘deepfakes’ could be used for political sabotage and propaganda.” The anonymous developer cheerfully helps the Times reporter try his own hand at it. “I’ve given it a lot of thought,” he [says], “and ultimately I’ve decided I don’t think it’s right to condemn the technology itself.”4 Of course not! They never do. It’s on to the next advance of science! Let the ethicists figure out what he has just dumped in their laps, something “which can of course be used for many purposes, good and bad.” It’s their problem, not his. Surely we can rely upon them to form and implement responsible policy. What’s that? We can’t? Oh, well.

Already, news sources show an eagerness to rely upon unidentified sources, who frequently turn out to be wrong. Will they handle this new advance responsibly? Not only can we expect ‘proven by video’ character assassination to become routine, but the more lasting consequence of this new technological advance will be that even genuine video evidence will be readily dismissed as fake news. It is Isaiah envisioned: “Ah! Those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness to light, and light into darkness, who change bitter to sweet, and sweet into bitter!”5 The guileless one so slandered will explode in moral indignation, and thus look guilty as hell. The professional liar will shrug it off with the feigned saddened dismay that his enemies could sink so low. It may be that “the wrath of the Lord blazes against [this] people,” but not before they have enjoyed their substantial day in the sun.

Sometimes the news is so new and unanticipated that you are hard-pressed to know whether it is fake or not. From Moscow, RT.com reporter Robert Bridge lists 10 things you probably never heard of 10 years ago. They include public statues dedicated to Satan, the accepted notion that one might have been assigned the wrong gender, widespread opioid addiction, sex with robots, college campuses where students are protected from debate, legalized marijuana, taking a knee during the national anthem, pink vagina hats, Internet appliances that spy on people, and cryptocurrencies. Dastardly space invaders from outer space will conclude there must be something in the air that they don’t dare risk catching and will hightail it back to wherever planet they came from. One is reminded of the ‘Dr. Seuss’ author’s widow, lamenting another desecration that she never thought she would live to see (the commercialization of her husband’s work): “If Ted could see this, he’d say ‘I’m glad I’m dead.’”

 

Really, is it not all fake news? Is it not an absurd drama? The Bible portrays it all as an act, an unreality, not the true life at all. Consistently, the Scriptures employ the imagery of a stage play. “For the world in its present form is passing away,” says NABRE, the ‘house’ translation for this work.6 Other translations read similarly: “Because this world in its present form is passing away.” (CEB) “For the present form of this world is passing away.” (ESV) “For the mode of this world passes away.” (HNV) “For the fashion of this world passeth away.” (KJV) “For this world in its present form is passing away.” (NIV)

“The image is drawn from a shifting scene in a play represented on the stage,” says the reference work Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Thus, the New World Translation’s rendering, “the scene of this world is changing,” is the best rendering of all, even if it is extremist.

The world is an act and the scenes are ever changing. Christians are the central actors of the play. Nearly all translations employ the word ‘spectacle,’ as in: “we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike.”7 (NABRE) The New International Reader’s Version dispenses with “spectacle” but still manages to nail the point with “We have been made a show for the whole creation to see.” The New World Translation better defines ‘spectacle’ as ‘theatrical spectacle.’ Angels and people are watching Christians. They are to become a theatrical spectacle to the world?  Very well. If that is to be their role, let them give the world some theater.

The world is stage to a play featuring heroes and villains. They are all actors. After 80 years, the curtain falls on the individual actor and it is off to the grave for him or her, to be succeeded by a fresh young face. This explains why Watchtower publications seldom name names. There is no reason to shame or honor the individual actors because it is not about them. It is about the play they are starring in. Take an actor out, and another one immediately steps into his shoes. Their names are not important. It can even be a distraction to know the names. Name a villain and you create the impression that removing that villain will solve matters. Instead, another villain assumes the role without fuss. It is the play we must follow, not the villains in it, or even the heroes.

The villains are even described in terms that make clear it is a play. The etymology of ‘hypocrite’ is that of an actor who wears a mask, just as they would do in the ancient plays. The technique served to amplify voice, hide true identity, and thereby facilitate a new role.8 Similarly, the villains in Jesus’ time routinely hid what they were. When they delivered Jesus to Pilate, they feigned concern that the government might be defrauded: “They brought charges against him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah, a king.’” They knew Pilate didn’t care about the first or the third charge, so they threw in the second to make him sit up and take notice. Opponents today of the Christian work employ similar methods.9

If the New World translators particularly identify with the image of actors on a stage, might it be because they have acted on many a stage? They are by no means Christians comfortably ensconced in academia. Every householder’s front porch is a stage, and they have starred upon countless ones. They have seen rave reviews. They have seen dismal reviews. At times, the reviewers have been so unkind as to chase them right off the stage. So, yes, they know a thing or two about being a theatrical spectacle to the world. They have seen a thing or two.

Why strut around on the stage we will leave so soon, and perhaps without dignity? If people do strut nonetheless—for humans are proud actors—should they not be read the verse: “Can you then fear mortals who die, human beings who are just grass?”10 In his day, U.S. President Ronald Reagan was arguably the most important human alive. Ten years later with Alzheimer’s, he didn’t know who he was.

As mentioned previously, the American newsman Charlie Rose interviewed Putin in 2015.11 “You have a popularity rating in Russia that would make every politician in the world envious. Why are you so popular?” Rose asked. “There is something that I have in common with every citizen of Russia, the love for our motherland,” Putin replied. Afterwards, Charlie and his team were invited to stay and have tea. “And tea turned into dinner. And the food kept coming in,” Rose said later. It was just like the state dinner of 200 years ago thrown by the czar for the fictional Horatio Hornblower and his British naval officers. It is a fine career, that of an interviewer. In an instant it was over, when Charlie was accused of sexual abuse, one of a long line of prominent men that went down in 2017. But even if it had it not ended that way, is there not an overall sad component to it? He once stated he had enjoyed a wonderful career by reason of knowing so many newsmakers. Are they really worth knowing? All they do is squabble with one another and collectively make the world a chaotic mess. I’ll take the brothers and sisters in my circuit any day.

In 2015, the Irish comedian Stephen Fry abruptly became quite serious on TV. He charged: “Why should I respect a mean-spirited, capricious, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain?” His words did not sit well with a certain person who reported him to the police. Fry discovered that he had run afoul of a blasphemy law that he had not even known existed. It was as though he was an extremist himself, nabbed for embarrassing the church people. The Irish Defamation Act would penalize any person who publishes or utters blasphemous material, and Fry was therefore investigated.12

What would Fry say to God face-to-face if he had the chance? a show host asked him on television. He answered: “I’d say ‘Bone cancer in children, what’s that about?’ How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil … Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.”

Perhaps the Russian Orthodox Church can answer his complaint. Jehovah’s Witnesses can in a heartbeat. It is even a chapter of their basic study book, What Can the Bible Teach Us, entitled Why So Much Suffering? an exploration of verses that effectively reason upon and answer the question. Through their unparalleled public ministry, Jehovah’s Witnesses make every effort to answer Fry’s grievance using the Bible, for surely it has that answer. Dominant churches jealous of their own turf try to run the Witnesses off the road so that they can answer it their way: with defamation laws when ‘God works in mysterious ways’ fails to satisfy. It is well that Russian tort lawyers, if they exist, do not understand scripture, for surely it is religious malpractice to interfere with the quest for the answers as to why there is suffering.

Nonetheless, the learned men have not figured it out, is the gist of ‘Octavius’, so what chance is there that an idiot will? ‘You see,’ Caecilius explains from the 2nd century, but he might just as well be speaking today, “all things in human affairs are doubtful, uncertain, and unsettled.” So it is to be understood that if “some, from the weariness of thoroughly investigating truth, should rashly succumb to any sort of opinion rather than persevere in exploring it with persistent diligence.” He represents those who have done “persistent diligence.” His uneducated Christian opponents do not.13 He later speaks with admiration of a certain philosopher who, “the longer his research continued, the obscurer the truth became to him.” That being so, “in my opinion also, things which are uncertain ought to be left as they are. Nor, while so many and so great men are deliberating, should we rashly and boldly give an opinion in another direction, lest either a childish superstition should be introduced.”14

The reason the great men cannot figure it out is that their wisdom has led them to make a priori assumptions that serve to screen out the true answer when it is presented to them. The ones unindoctrinated need not grapple with these red herrings—frequently they are unaware of them. It really is true that the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s eyes and that he therefore simply ignores it, giving very clear answers only to whomever is willing to extricate themselves from that quagmire.15

This explains why Witnesses of Jehovah can barely contain themselves. Fry cries out the question of the ages. There is scarcely a question more important. The great men have either argued in circles or given up. Yet his question should be answered. Jehovah’s Witnesses have really put themselves out—they have fairly turned their lives upside down—to bring that answer to him, only to be blocked by ‘respectable’ religion. It is not a matter of snatching away church members; let them claim him if they can answer his question. Unfortunately, they cannot, and they will not. They have boxed themselves in with pre-existing notions and unreasonable doctrines. So they don’t try. They take cover instead behind defamation laws. Indeed, several of their doctrines would negate the answer to Fry’s question, though biblically the answer be plain as day.

For example, it is common, upon the death of a young child, for a member of the clergy to explain it with the analogy of how God is picking flowers. It goes something like this: God has a garden; he grows pretty flowers, absolutely the best. But he needs one more. There’s one spot that’s just not right. Ah! The missing ingredient is your sole flower. He’ll pick it. Surely, you’ll be happy. What’s that? You’re not? Who would ever think such an analogy as ‘picking flowers’ would be comforting? It is monstrous. No wonder people go atheist. Take away the most precious thing a person has simply because you have an opening and expect him to be comforted over that?

The ‘picking flowers’ illustration is nowhere found in the Bible. But, just once, the Bible uses an illustration parallel in all respects except the moral, which is exactly opposite from the flower illustration! It takes place after King David, captivated over Uriah’s wife, takes her as his own, impregnates her, and silences her husband by having him killed. The passage reads:

“The LORD sent Nathan to David, and when he came to him, he said: “Tell me how you judge this case: In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers. But the poor man had nothing at all except one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children. Of what little he had she ate; from his own cup she drank; in his bosom she slept; she was like a daughter to him. Now, a visitor came to the rich man, but he spared his own flocks and herds to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him: he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David grew very angry with that man and said to Nathan: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves death! He shall make fourfold restitution for the lamb because he has done this and was unsparing. Then Nathan said to David: ‘You are the man!’”16

Now, this analogy is just! The man is not expected to be comforted that the king stole his lamb to impress his visitor. Anyone who’s ever recoiled in disgust at the ‘picking flowers’ analogy is reacting exactly as the Bible says he should! It is the clergyman who is advocating the obscene. The flower picker is not to be praised. He deserves death! Having followed the prophet Nathan’s logic, the atheists take the moral high road in this instance and kill God! The condemnation of religion at Revelation 18:24: “In her was found the blood of…all the ones who have been slaughtered on the earth,” is not due to her war-stoking record alone. It is not just due to her acts of commission; it is also due to her acts of omission. Such teachers swap Bible truth for junk food, and spiritually starved people forage on evolution and atheism for nourishment.

Since the illustration is slanderous toward God and not found in the Bible, why do so many clergy members use it? The answer is that they have bought into unscriptural and unreasonable doctrines that unfailingly paint them into moral corners. You make a god-awful mess trying to escape from these corners. The unscriptural doctrine here is: ‘When we die we don’t really die.’ That is, there is some component of us, usually called the soul, that lives on. It is immortal. Have you been good? Then death is your friend. You get promoted to heaven, and how can anyone not be happy to see good people promoted? It’s a win-win! The trouble is, people don’t behave as though it’s a win-win. People mourn at funerals, they don’t rejoice. They take a long time to readjust. Some never readjust to the death of their child; children are not supposed to die before the parent. Death is not natural. It is not a friend, as most religions would have us believe. It is an enemy.17

Returning to Fry’s complaint, note who takes the hit for religious negligence. It is God! Fry rails against God, not clergy persons and not religion! He should rail against the latter, for it is they that fail in their job to explain God. It should not be God who takes the hit. Fry simply assumes—what reasonable person would not?—that if there is an answer to a spiritual question, the self-proclaimed experts will have it. That they do not must mean that an answer does not exist. It does not occur to him that the experts are themselves misled, or in some cases even frauds. God’s reputation suffers. Even beyond addressing Fry’s righteous gripe, Jehovah’s Witnesses ardently want to defend God; after all, that is the function of a witness: to defend one who is accused.

It is a stretch, but perhaps Fry will one day come across Jehovah’s Witnesses and be puzzled at finding that they are in Russia a ‘totalitarian sect.’ It is too bad for him that they are so maligned. So fundamental are his questions of God and suffering that even if the repugnant word ‘totalitarian’ was true, he might decide to rethink his objection to it, for it is not as though anyone else in the field of religion has offered anything to satisfy his spiritual thirst. Slandering good people with charges of totalitarianism does not always work. Sometimes the contrast between the accusations and what people can see right before their eyes is too great, and people are drawn to what they might not otherwise have noticed. For some the best motivation to do something is to be told that they cannot. Might Fry be one of those people?

His words were reported to the police by “a member of the public, who asked not to be identified,” and who later explained that he (this is too much—it really is) “had not personally been offended by Fry’s comments—I added that I simply believed that the comments made by Fry were criminal blasphemy and that I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime.” If the incident mirrors the incidents of many countries, the “member of the public” was an infuriated clergyman, maybe even Dvorkin himself, who was personally offended and therefore tried to arrest the one who had insulted him and his profession. In the end, whoever it was did not succeed. Fry was not charged. It was decided to let the law slide because “no one was hurt.”

Sure, go ahead and slap down Fry, if you must. But also address his complaint. Had his complaint even once been addressed, he might not have launched his TV salvo to begin with. Few pay any attention to the Bible’s explanation of suffering because it is Jehovah’s Witnesses that offer it. As with most things, it is not what is said that is important. It is who says it. People look to a respectable source to answer such questions, for surely answers should come from someone trained in academia, they assume. “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the open squares she raises her voice,” says the proverb. ‘Nonsense!’ the world’s movers and shakers respond. ‘It cries aloud in the university campuses and quadrangles. Only ignoramuses are found on the street.’18

How a religion can be considered a respectable source while coming up empty-handed on the fundamental questions of life is a question for others to ponder. But popular religion will ever be a reflection of what people honor most, and such fundamental questions, while they may appear on the list of concerns, do not rank as highly as does fitting in with the world’s overall aims and thereby enjoying respectability.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, who, at significant expense and inconvenience, have put themselves out to answer questions like Fry’s, should not be impeded. Let’s face it—one builds up some ‘street cred’ through such an unpaid public ministry. There is nothing in it for them. Sure, it can be spun in a derisive manner by persons intent on that aim: that they have a ‘need’ to validate themselves or a ‘need’ to be right. But it is better to take it at face value: as doing a good deed. Witnesses understand kingdom preaching as a Christian duty dictated by love of God, for he is the one who gets slammed—and for neighbor, for they are the ones who suffer for it. If you have knowledge, you don’t just sit on it. How loving would that be? You light the lamp and put it on a lampstand.

 

After 45 years, I reconnected with an old friend. It was the friend who had ribbed me mercilessly about the United Nations when I had first become a Witness. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a unique understanding of that world body—that it is the ‘image of the wild beast’ of Revelation. The wild beast is the worldwide political system and it has ‘breathed life’ into the image of the wild beast, which is thereby empowered to govern the entire earth as a single organization, something its individual components have proved unable to do. It represents worldwide government by man instead of worldwide government by God, and thus it finds itself in the crosshairs of biblical interpretation.19

It is also in its second life. Its first life was as the League of Nations, formed to maintain peace following World War I. The League failed twenty years after its inception, powerless to dissuade factions gearing up for a repeat war, but the concept was resurrected after World War II as the United Nations. Even this resurrection fits in with a Revelation verse: “The beast that you saw existed once but now exists no longer. It will come up from the abyss…”20 Watchtower President Nathan Knorr predicted the ‘beast’s’ reappearance at a 1942 convention, while the entire world was for the second time at war.21 

The two diverging views over just who should govern humankind—man or God—split decisively in 1919. The newly formed League was hailed by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in America as “not a mere political expedient; it is rather the political expression of the kingdom of God on earth.” Jehovah’s Witnesses, their head ones just released from Atlanta prison for alleged violation of the 1918 Espionage and Sedition Act, promptly regrouped and announced at a landmark convention: “Behold, the King reigns! You are his publicity agents. Therefore advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom,” government by God.22 The contrast could not have been more stark. 

Now, I knew the preceding only vaguely at the time, and my friend did not know it at all. His picture of the United Nations had been forged as a child, as had mine. It was the organization that collected money for the eradication of disease. As a child I had carried one of their milk cartons modified to collect coins for just that purpose—what on earth could be wrong with that? My friend harped and harped on it and I finally told him that it was just a footnote, not a big deal, and that he should give it a rest.

The circuit overseer was to visit our congregation and there was to be a special slide presentation. I invited my friend and gave him to understand that, in view of his giving me nothing but grief about my new faith, if he attended this one meeting I would consider that he had given it a fair shake and would thereafter shut up about it. He came and was shoehorned into a crowded Kingdom Hall. All was going well, and I was happy that he was receiving ‘a witness,’ but toward the end of the presentation a slide displayed the U.N. building rent in two by a lightning bolt from heaven! an image that I had never seen before and do not think I have seen since. I should have invited the Soviet leaders instead of my friends, for they would have cheered; Russia routinely got shellacked in the Security Council back then, ever outvoted by the pro-West majority. Putin himself (I am playing a bit here) might even have removed and pounded his shoe in appreciation at that Kingdom Hall meeting, just as Khrushchev had done years before at the U.N itself. But I hadn’t invited the Soviet leaders. I had invited my friend, and I kept my end of the bargain to witness to him no more, with but occasional relapses—for after all, I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Meanwhile, the United Nations continues to function until the world ignores it to embark upon WWIII, but since that has not yet happened, perhaps it must be granted some credit. Every once in a while, I am told, it contacts the Watchtower Society to ask them if they would please drop this ‘wild beast spiel.’

Anyhow, I caught up with my friend again after 45 years. He had been a heavy smoker back in the day and he was now dependent upon an oxygen tank, which impeded his mobility. Who was it that said we spend the first third of our lives ensuring that the final third will be miserable? Once long ago I had commented on that delicious aroma of a newly lit cigarette. “Every puff is like that when you are a smoker,” he replied. Yet now he crusades to dissuade others from that course.

The zealots of New York State bombard me with graphic anti-smoking TV ads, as though intent on spoiling my dinner. Visiting with my old friend was more effective. I thanked Jehovah, for it easily could have been me. I easily could have been funneled into it, for it was all the rage once and it is not to my credit that I abstained. The year I was baptized smoking became an offense for which one could be expelled from the congregation. Some had the most difficult struggle quitting. Some didn’t quit and ceased association with the religion. Yet seeing my old friend, who had lived a life of both joys and sorrows, knowing it will likely be cut short due to the tobacco—it made me grateful for that firmness. Though Witness detractors today complain about many a freedom-restricting policy, I have never known any to complain of this one, which must have saved countless thousands of lives. Should a safety-conscious world ever focus on Witnesses shunning tobacco, drugs, alcohol abuse and warfare, it might mandate that everyone sign on.

My friend will die younger than otherwise, most likely. Yet, is it not but fake news that 80 years and then death is all we should expect? Those of this world settle for so little. If Google and Facebook filter out the fake news of the present, why should not Jehovah’s Witnesses filter out the fake news of the future? If only the Church would do it. Then Witnesses wouldn’t have to. Everlasting life on earth under kingdom rule is the Bible hope. Death in the Adamic system of things is not permanent.  “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping in death, so that you may not sorrow as the rest do who have no hope,” Paul writes.23 ‘Yes, we do,’ the Church says in effect. ‘Stay ignorant.’

The overall church world will not explain about those ‘sleeping in death.’ They cannot. They have it all backwards and they present death as part of God’s plan. They portray it as is a friend, whereas the Bible clearly says it is an enemy and not part of God’s plan at all. Live a few decades on a trialsome earth, then (if you are good) get promoted to heaven, they say. It is all wrong. It is all unscriptural. Earth is our intended home, the Bible says. While it is true some end up in heaven, it is a tiny group for a special purpose—to rule with Christ as ‘kings over the earth.’ How many nations consist of only kings?24 Religion finds the doctrine that all are heaven-bound hard to convey to young skeptics. It makes no sense to them. Why didn’t God put them there in the first place if that’s where he wanted them? Nor does that hope strike most of them as desirable. They like it here, they point out, or at least they would if humans would stop fouling the nest. What would they ever do with themselves in heaven?

The ban impedes Russian citizens from getting a straight answer to another one of the greatest mysteries of all time: what happens at death? Is this life all there is? Why does Genesis tell of people living 900 years back in that time? What does that portend? Is it really because they measured time differently, as the Presbyterian pastor told me? If so, why do later generations live just 500 years and later still, 200, eventually dropping to 30 or so during the Dark Ages before a reapplication of sanitation principles found in the Torah bounces lifespans back up to the present 80, like a correction in a plummeting stock market?25

 

Social media can induce depression. Regularly this is heard in the West. ‘My online friends’ lives are so exciting—always they are posting interesting things,’ people say, ‘but my life is so dull.’ Facebook itself is fake news, distorting reality! But even if it did not, even if it relayed the present life accurately, is not this entire world of human devising fake news: ever overpromising and underdelivering? Is not everything outside of spiritual matters fake news? Or at least besides-the-point news. If someone breaks through the fake news to discover the real stuff, as Jehovah’s Witnesses think they have done, can anyone think that one will be satisfied with the fake news again?

Living forever on a paradise earth sounds like a fairy tale. Why expect anyone to waste their time obsessing about that? But it also sounds very good. If the time involved to investigate is substantial or the cost prohibitive, one might expect people to dismiss the notion out of hand. But if the time involved is modest, and the cost is free, some will decide to look into it. They’ll appreciate that someone has gone to a lot of trouble in order to bring that message to them; a free home Bible study to the general public is the signature offer of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Once a person has had the satisfaction of assembling the puzzle pieces that are the Bible, replicating the portrait of the puppy dog or mountain range on the box cover, he is immune to the critic who says he put it together wrong. He is especially immune if that critic’s own puzzle lies unassembled in the box on his closet shelf. Afterwards, with puzzle completed, he is even immune when he is cruising down the highway at full throttle, and the critical atheist on the radio tells him his car doesn’t run.

The puzzle cannot be assembled in church. Too many pieces have been altered and they no longer fit together. It was the same in the first century. In an effort to stay popular and contemporary, the establishment tampered with the pieces, to the point where those pieces became fodder for theological rumination, but roadblocks to actual understanding. Though there were plenty of (Jewish) priests back then, it was for the nascent Christianity’s Phillip to approach the traveling court official who was reading aloud Isaiah. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked him. “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” was the reply.26

The reconstructed box cover picture is the answer to everything of consequence. God wants us to have it. He wants us to seek and find him. He is “not far from any one of us.”27 If you destroy the puzzle pieces, it is hard to assemble anything that makes sense. Witnesses only want to clarify and preserve the pieces so that the puzzle can be put together. They are guardians of doctrine in that regard. It hardly makes them extremist. Rather, it makes them essential.

Most church teachings are not plainly found in the Bible. The attempt to read them in causes people to throw up their hands in despair of ever understanding the book. The Trinity teaching makes God incomprehensible. The hellfire teaching makes him cruel; Isaac Asimov was not off-base when he likened the hellfire teaching to “the drooling dream of a sadist.”  Both doctrines are components of the fake news of religion that was carted out to the curb 100 years ago by early Watchtower associates acting as ‘the messenger preparing the way.’ When you ‘prepare the way’ for any sort of building project, carting out the trash is the first thing you must do. Thereafter you don’t obsess over it. You needn’t tell Waste Management why the contents of the dumpster must go. Accordingly, Watchtower publications rarely mention the trash these days. They are content to provide a toolbox containing a few specialized brochures and magazines to reason with those outside who yet hold onto the old doctrines. But for congregation members they get on with the essence of Christian living.

Christ went under the water in baptism and so did Christians. When they emerge, it is symbolically as with a new personality. He was nailed to the stake. That’s what happened to the old personality of Christians as well. The symbolism helps them with their resolve to continue stripping off the old personality and donning the one that is Christ’s. Squabbling over the trash will have a place so long as there are people who think it is really valuable stuff, but the true power of Christianity lies elsewhere. The verses that can be used to refute the Trinity doctrine were not written for that purpose. Reaching for maturity, the Christian explores the purposes for which they were written.28

Many a person brave on the battlefield cowers at the prospect of discussing spiritual things with a visiting Witness. He worries that his choice weapon, “I never speak of religion or politics,” may not be enough to drive off the assailer. Deep down inside he may suspect that he probably should care more about spiritual things than he actually does, for he has heard, and it sounds laudable, that ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’ Perhaps it is even as Mathew 5:3 says: that the ones conscious of their spiritual needs are the ones who will ultimately be happy. They will seek to fill those needs.  All persons have spiritual needs, but they are not necessarily conscious of them, just as they are not necessarily conscious of the need for vitamins. Neglect them at your own peril. One gets sicker and sicker without ever quite knowing why. Strangely, few Bibles are so clear as the New World translation in rendering the expression ‘conscious as to spiritual needs.’ Most settle for an incomprehensible ‘blessed are the poor in spirit,’ or ‘beggars of the spirit.’ If you beg for something, surely you are aware that you need it. Except for the New World Translation, the passage is obscure. Russians will have to ask their relatives across the border to look that verse up for them.

 

I like the Peter Sellers movie Being There, in which Chauncy very slowly explains to political leaders how one season follows another. They treat him with the greatest deference and assume that he is speaking so slowly so as to allow them to grasp the economic implications of allowing the business cycle to play out. In actuality, he is a mentally challenged man who has difficulty recalling the order of the seasons. The assumptions of the learned are often fake news. The emperor often parades around in invisible clothes and only the children spot it as fake.

Is insistence upon critical thinking, all the rage today, and enjoying a resurgence from the time of Caecilius, among the greatest facilitators of fake news? Criticalthinking.org laments that “much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced….Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.” The web writer assumes that is possible. He continues: “Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.” Manifestly, this way of thought appeals to persons who are fond of ‘self.’ Critical thought “presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.”29 Is not the devil in what it “presupposes?”

Consider the role critical thinking might have played in a 2009 diplomatic spat between Britain and China. The Chinese authorities had just executed a British citizen for drug trafficking in their country, the first such execution since the 1950s. The British had wanted him spared owing to his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. They’d lobbied hard for that outcome. When it didn’t happen, British Prime Minister Brown cried: “I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted.…I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken. But China would have none of it. “Nobody has the right to speak ill of China’s judicial sovereignty,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. “We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition over the groundless British accusations. We urge the British side to mend its errors and avoid damaging China-British relations.”30

What is dealt with here are differing cultural attitudes towards social policy, criminal conduct, mental illness, personal responsibility, individual rights, and drug use. These are values. Just how does ‘critical thinking’ sort out the interplay between them? For the most part, the two citizenries lined up with the viewpoints of their respective governments. Was critical thinking only to be found among one or the other population? If so, which one? It was China that played the ‘critical thinking’ card first. “We hope that the British side can view this matter rationally,” Jiang said. Why didn’t the Brits think of enshrouding their plea in rationality? Too late now. China beat them to it, and now the British are, by default, irrational.

For all the brouhaha over critical thinking, pigs will fly before nations give up cherished norms forged over decades, even centuries. Critical thinking has its place. There are some areas where it alone delivers. But it is never the be-all and end-all. Don’t let its staunch advocates tell you that they have uncovered the nirvana to establishing truth. They are too quick to presuppose that they are the guardians thereof. From their ranks comes the too-confident person who does not suffer fools gladly—and a fool is anyone with whom he disagrees. His fake news is the most pernicious of all because he takes it as a matter of faith that his method makes him impervious to fakery.

The experience of unity is a profound draw for Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a profound “taste and see that God is good.”31 There are ever so many Witness opponents online, and many of them once were Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. Judging from what they write, it is safe to say that they would not be able to tolerate one another outside of the Internet, where they have united for common cause. They can and doubtless do snipe at each other endlessly on other venues, perhaps over Trump/Hillary, or God/no God, or global warming/global denying, or medicine/alt medicine. They should embrace the world they have collectively chosen. When they see mayhem on TV—embrace it, it is theirs. They once had unity. There were once able to sacrifice some petty freedoms in order to grasp significant ones. But now it is the petty they cherish. It is the ‘Dreamers’ who dream only of where they can suffer the fewest people telling them what to do and where they can make the most money.

When critical thinking is turned upon the Bible itself, the book promptly disintegrates. The reason Jehovah’s Witnesses can look at the Bible as they do is because they have ‘tasted and seen that the LORD is good.’ It is the heart molded by experience and focused effort. But if you hail from the world of criticism, you cannot conceive of unity. You have never seen it. Leave these people to their own devices and there is no Bible book written as presented. Every one of them is a hash of conflicting writers with warring agendas. It is the only reality such scholars have ever experienced, and it colors all their scholarship.  Assumptions matter. The course of justice is altered when “innocent until proven guilty” becomes “guilty until proved innocent.” One can demonstrate that the Bible is reasonable, but one cannot prove it. Nor can one prove the opposite. Primarily, it is ‘taste and see.’ In mile-high Denver, Colorado, people believe in floods. They believe in them in New Orleans, too, below sea level, but the quality of their belief differs, for they have ‘tasted and seen’ floods.

Critical thinkers who have not seen unity, save in tyrannical settings, assume it does not exist. Their world is one of critical argument. Their vehemence in argument is emblematic of why it does not work. No attempt is made to relate to the other side. The intent is only to demolish it. Sometimes I worry that their cherished evolution is true and that they are the final product of it. If so, kiss any prospects of getting along goodbye. The trouble with critical thinking is that its proponents invariably assume that they have a lock on the stuff and that, consequently, their role is to correct others.

Some years back I conversed with one of these fellows at his door. He insisted that I define all my terms, interrupting me frequently to that end. If I said “religion,” for example, he said “define religion.” If I said “God,” he said “define God.” If I said “system,” he said “define system.” This happened four or five times and, in an effort to break the mood, find common ground, and simply be pleasant, I commented upon his steep driveway—that it must make for challenging driving in the winter. He corrected me! He had planned it at exactly the right pitch and composition and alignment toward the sun, so that, on days the sun appeared, ice would melt before he had to traverse it. “He even argued about his driveway!” my dumbfounded companion said, as we walked down it.

Jesus cares little about the head, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not especially ‘heady.’ For every appeal Jesus makes to the mind, he makes ten to the heart, spinning parables that he rarely explains. Even when he offers explanation, it is not such that it would satisfy the critical thinker. Perhaps he does it so that the latter, too impressed with their own wisdom and demands for proof, will argue themselves right off the deck of the ship before it reaches its destination. Says the Lord: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because “they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: “You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.”32

Cherished methods of argumentation are not the Christian priority. Jesus freely utilizes hyperbole, a device which may so frustrate the critical thinker that he is apt to label it simply an untruth. So be it. In his own way, he is as rigid as is the fundamentalist who would take the expression ‘crocodile tears’ to mean that (I am exaggerating here just a bit) whoever is being spoken of is a crocodile. Of course, one must strive to make sense, for “Paul joined them, and for three Sabbaths he entered into discussions with them from the scriptures, expounding and demonstrating that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead, and that ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus, whom I proclaim to you.’” One must be like the Beroeans and check that all things told really can be established.33 But one needn’t feel constrained to follow the rules of a world that worships critical thinking, since it sometimes is their first rule that you can’t move any of your pieces. If they shriek that you have raised a strawman, point out that Jesus wants men of all sorts to be saved—even straw men. There’s nothing wrong with strawmen. They are used in the Bible frequently. They are a fine rhetorical means of telling an unreasonable person: ‘Your point is too silly to merit a serious response,’ just as in the Star Trek episode wherein Mr. Spock promises to give Dr. McCoy’s suggestion all the attention it merits. He pauses a split second, then proceeds with his business.

The mind does not run the show. Judging from how seldom Jesus appeals to it as opposed to the heart, it never did. It is the heart that decides what it wants. It then employs the mind to cloak around its desire a veneer of respectable rationality, if such can be arranged. If it cannot, the heart just makes a grab for what it wants and charges the head to devise a rationale whenever it gets around to it.

Critical thinking cannot save us. Many things today are, for all practical purposes, unknowable, with endless permutations that can be spun in endless ways, often deliberately, by ones of vested interests who wish to muddy the waters. One must look to the heart for guidance, and even leadership. The head will catch up in time. Max Planck the physicist, surely one who appreciated critical thinking, observed: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Even that statement presupposes that the new truths accepted after a generation truly are truths. It is not inevitable that they are. They are sometimes the mountains and hills that crumble just when you must lean upon them the most.

There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false, says John P. A. Ioannidis in an abstract to a study examining the topic. “Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.”34 Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the Lancet, adds: “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”35 Dr. Marcia Angell writes similarly: “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.”36

The devotees of reason toil away at their favorite model and do not notice when their tools are hijacked by sinister forces. Sometimes it is ego. Other times it is money. The majority team gets the ball, tilts the field against the minority team, and may even seek to obliterate them. Many things established have been established by decree. Many things proven have been proven by ignoring evidence to the contrary. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” stated Upton Sinclair. A foremost observation of critical thinking ought to be that we are not very good at it.

Critical thinking is a tool only as good as those who would wield it. The typical person has much on his plate and cannot be expected to uncover the ruses. He is safeguarded only when he assumes that ‘science,’ like everything else in this world, is contaminated. It is frequently enough trumped by money or politics that it must be never be taken as an absolute. It’s great stuff, science is. Pour me a double-shot of it. But it must not be relied upon as the primary means of establishing truth. One need not be overly concerned over the latest decree of contemporary science. Sometimes it changes. Even though it be a tsunami. it reverses course and goes right back into the hole from which it came.

The greater world recommends attaining wisdom. So, too, does the Bible. But the two brands are not the same. In some respects, they are polar opposites. “The wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits,” says the Bible.36 ‘Peaceful and gentle?’ The world would say no. ‘Compliant?’ It is a quality inviting contempt. ‘Full of mercy and good fruits?’ No. It goes where it goes and takes umbrage should anyone impose upon it standards of good or bad. The two brands are not the same. Either the wisdom of the Bible is foolish, or the wisdom of this world is.

Is this why those who accept the Bible as presented by Jehovah’s Witnesses do so in the first place? They conclude that the Bible’s wisdom is better. Upon investigation, they see the diverse pieces come together to reveal the vista on the box cover. They taste and see that Jehovah is good. The latter has nothing to do with critical thinking, the former only marginally so. The critical thinker would first analyze the pieces in close detail, find blemishes in each, and thereby throw them all away.

Anyone reading through the Old Testament cannot but help pick up the refrain, the rundown of God’s dealing with Israel: “I let my people get beat up because they were too bad for too long. But then the nations said: ‘Look! God cannot protect his own people!’ So I beat them up too. And I brought my own people back just to show them.” It is no more complicated than that with the great God of all creation? No. It is not. Sometimes we can overthink things. Though his wisdom surpasses all understanding and we can see only the fringe of his ways, when he chooses to relate to humans, he is breathtaking in his pedestrian common sense. He is not ashamed of it. He glorifies it.38

(From the ebook: Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia. In safe and unsafe version)

 

Endnotes

 

  1. Fact Check: “Did Trump Warn Russia Over Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban and Urge Members to Seek Asylum in the U.S.?” snopes.com, May 2, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.snopes.com/jehovahs-witness-russia-trump-asylum/
  2. The Octavius of Minucius Felix, Roberts-Donaldson English [from Greek] Translation, c160-250 A.D, chapters VIII, IX, compiled by Peter Kirby, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/octavius.html. The debate between an early Christian (Octavius) and a Roman skeptic (Caecilius) is among the oldest, possibly the oldest, of extant Christian Latin literature.
  3. The Octavius, XII
  4. Kevin Roose, “Here Come the Fake Videos, Too,” New York Times, March 4, 2018
  5. Isaiah 5:20-25
  6. 1 Corinthians 7:31
  7. 1 Corinthians 4:9
  8. Word History: “The Origin of ‘Hypocrite’- This Common Word Has a Dramatic Origin Story,” Merriam-Webster, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/hypocrite-meaning-origin
  9. Luke 23:2
  10. Isaiah 51:12
  11. Harrison Koehli, “Sott Exclusive: Full Unedited Text of Vladimir Putin’s Interview with Charlie Rose: What CBS Left Out,” sott.net, September 29, 2015, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.sott.net/article/302911-Sott-Exclusive-Full-unedited-text-of-Vladimir-Putins-interview-with-Charlie-Rose-What-CBS-left-out. It doesn’t hurt to see what was left out. It reinforces perception that the media of any country pursue primarily the memes popular in that country.
  12. Padraig Collins, “Stephen Fry Investigated by Irish police for Alleged Blasphemy,” The Guardian, May 6, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/may/07/stephen-fry-investigated-by-irish-police-for-alleged-blasphemy
  13. The Octavius, V
  14. The Octavius, XIII
  15. 1 Corinthians 3:19
  16. 2 Samuel 12:1-7
  17. 1 Corinthians 15:26.
  18. Proverbs 1:20
  19. Revelation 13:14-15
  20. Revelation 17:8
  21. Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1992) 262
  22. Ibid., 192
  23. 1 Thessalonians 4:13
  24. 1 Corinthians 15:26, Revelation 5:10
  25. Genesis chapters 5 and 11, Psalm 90:10
  26. Acts 8:30-31
  27. Acts 17:27
  28. Romans 6:4-6, Colossians 3:9
  29. “Our Concept and Definition of Critical Thinking,” The Foundation for Critical Thinking, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/our-concept-and-definition-of-critical-thinking/411
  30. Associated Press, “China Confirms the Execution of British Citizen Akmal Shaikh, Despite UK Plea,” New York Daily News, December 29, 2009, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/china-confirms-execution-british-citizen-akmal-shaikh-uk-plea-article-1.432326
  31. Psalm 34:8
  32. Matthew 13:13-15
  33. Acts 17:2, 11
  34. John P. A. Ioannidis, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” PLoS, August 30, 2005, accessed March 28, 2018, http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124
  35. Richard Horton, “Offline: What is Medicine’s 5 Sigma?” thelancet.com, Vol 385, April 11, 2015, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736%2815%2960696-1.pdf
  36. Marcia Angell, “Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption,” The New York Review of Books, January 15, 2009, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2009/01/15/drug-companies-doctorsa-story-of-corruption/
  37. James 3:17
  38. Job 26:14

Dear Mr Putin (1) (1)

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Owning Your Own Pew - in Charleston and Savannah

Attending church back in the day at St Philip’s in Charleston, you wouldn’t sit just anywhere. You would sit in your box pew—you and your family. Nobody else would ever sit in your pew. It was yours. Once a year you paid a fee for that pew. The closer it was to the front, the more expensive it was. Your name was in brass on the door to your pew, and the door, like all walls, extended completely to the floor, so as to eliminate drafts in the unheated hall of worship.*

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The church has pewter silver utensils donated by King George II—not King George III, who lost the colonies to independence, but his father. It was founded in 1681, the structure relocated and rebuilt 42 years later after a hurricane damaged it, (later-mentioned St Michael’s was built on that original site), destroyed again, this time by fire, in 1835, and built again the next year. The present-day congregation has 2,000 members, but with about 500 actually in attendance on any given Sunday. It gets a fair number of visitors and one suspects a sense of historical preservation drives many of them, besides a sense of worship.

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If you missed church on any given Sunday back then, everyone at once knew it because there was zero chance that you were sitting anywhere other than your box pew. Surely, this bit of social peer pressure to “control” people would send the anti-cultists of today into conniptions. However, if you told John C. Calhoun, the congregation’s most famous member, that he belonged to a ‘controlling cult,’ as might be spun today, he might just run you through with a sword. His road to Vice President began with a stint as War Secretary under President Monroe, and he later served as Vice President to, not one, but two presidents, Andrew Jackson and John Quincey Adams. He vehemently argued for slavery as an institution beneficial to both races, in contrast to some, like Thomas Jefferson, who wrote that it was destructive to both.

Calhoun’s tomb is in the cemetery across the road from the St Phillip’s church. Whenever possible, however, deceased members were buried immediately outside the main building, as here at St Michael’s, just a block or two away, built on the original St Phillip’s site.

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*Congregation members also owned pews to the south in Mickve Israel Temple, founded in 1733, the oldest group of reformed Jews in Georgia. They had arrived by ship in Savannah just 5 months after the founding of that original planned city. They would have found little welcome—Jews were not to be allowed in James Oglethorpe’s outpost colony, along with Catholics, lawyers, and slaves, but for the fact that the colonist’s original doctor had been the first to die of a yellow fever epidemic. The Jews came with a doctor to take his place. Dr Rubiero treated the colonists, stopped the epidemic, and became Georgia’s first pubic hero. Note the grateful letter from Oglethorpe acknowledging good doctor’s care, on display in the synagogue’s museum. (‘Temple’ and ‘synagogue’ are synonymous in the parlance of reformed Jews, the docent told me.)

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Pew owners held deeds that could be passed on to future generations, and the docent told us of a modern-day member carrying on about how it is the only inheritance of his that costs him money, since annual fees are also assessed. See, by the way, use of the Divine Name, on the historical sign just outside the building.

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30% of Charleston is land reclaimed from the sea. The entire region, stretching all the way to Savannah, is called the ‘lowcountry.’ During our stay, the Charleston mayor was talking up his plans to stop the sea from again encroaching, citing research from someone that sea level was to rise two feet by 2050. That is a threat unlike those that faced the old churches. An earthquake of 1886 (in Charleston!) destroyed the vestibule of St Michael’s and severely damaged yet another ancient church, the 1731 First Presbyterian Church. See placard below:

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Owning your own pew. It is not as good as owning your own house, vine and fig tree, with no one to make you worry about keeping them, as in Isaiah 65:21-23, but it is something. And it could be passed down to your kids:

They will build houses and live in them, And they will plant vineyards and eat their fruitage. They will not build for someone else to inhabit, Nor will they plant for others to eat....They will not toil for nothing, Nor will they bear children for distress, Because they are the offspring made up of those blessed by Jehovah. They will not build for someone else to inhabit, Nor will they plant for others to eat. For the days of my people will be like the days of a tree, And the work of their hands my chosen ones will enjoy to the full.”

 

 

 

 

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If a Tree Falls in the Forest and There Is No One To Hear It, How Do You Know It Made a Sound? Because the Squirrels go Crazy

“Now we speak wisdom among those who are mature, but not the wisdom of this system of things nor that of the rulers of this system of things, who are to come to nothing.” (1 Corinthians 2;6)

If they speak the “absurdities of their experiences” it might be said that they stayed too shallow for too long so as to mistake the bloopers for the movie itself.

This one, too, is a beaut, from the same chapter: “But a physical man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know them, because they are examined spiritually.  However, the spiritual man examines all things, but he himself is not examined by any man.” (2:14)

One gets to understand the other, but it does not work in reverse.

It is plain how “puffed up” they were by how the apostle leaned into them about the “wisdom” they appeared to be in love with:

“Let no one be seducing himself: If anyone among you thinks he is wise in this system of things, let him become a fool, that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; for it is written: “He catches the wise in their own cunning.”  (18-19)

True today as well, surely. If the “wisdom of this world” was worth the digital bits taken to print it, wouldn’t the world that it has collectively produced have more to show for itself?

The wise ones ponder appreciably Plato’s description of reality, that we see only the shadow because of the head restraints. But the lowly ones, workmen to the core, say: “Why don’t they just invent tin shears to cut through the restraints so they can turn around the see the real thing? It is not too much different from how Lee Chugg responded to the learned question: “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to observe it, how does one know that it really make a noise?”

“Because the squirrels go crazy!” he would shoot back.

“For behold his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth; but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put the strong things to shame;  and God chose the ignoble things of the world and the things looked down upon, the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are, in order that no flesh might boast in the sight of God. But it is due to him that you are in union with Christ Jesus, who has become to us wisdom from God, also righteousness and sanctification and release by ransom; that it may be just as it is written: ‘He that boasts, let him boast in Jehovah.’” (1: 26-31)

The founders of the faith, the 12, were “unlettered and ordinary.” They always remained so. (Acts 4:13)

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Mistreatment in Surgut and Enemy Tactics Revealed

At 6:15 AM on February 15, 2019, Timofei Zhukov and his wife were awakened by furious pounding on the door, as though someone would break it down. They didn’t answer and the pounding ceased. Half an hour later their balcony door was broken down. Several riot police stormed into the room. Zhukov was kicked, cuffed, and his head slammed against the wall—'the blood is still on the wallpaper,’ he later told Kommersant, the business magazine. His wife cried in alarm and was cursed for her trouble.1

It was part of a sting operation that netted 40 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Surgut, Siberia—a major dark turn of events that nobody had anticipated. Twelve officers jumped from three vehicles pulled over to detain 2 Witnesses who were walking alongside the street.2

Mr. Zhukov was not tortured at the police station, but he did not escape hearing the screams of those seven Witnesses who were—music turned up loud to mask the sounds, but there was no masking them. He is a lawyer, as it turns out, who once served as assistant prosecutor in the city, and now is legal advisor to a construction firm. “Please register the exact time. Somebody is being beaten here,” he shouted. An FSB agent entered the room and said, “Don’t worry, they do not beat anyone here”—there was a drug addict within who was screaming his head off, he was told. And the former prosecutor believed it, only discovering the truth later from his brothers who had been on the other side of the door. He told the magazine that “until recently, he could not believe that law enforcement officers could torture believers.”

Though cuffed for three hours while his home was searched and beaten on his legs whenever they were judged to be insufficiently far apart, the handcuffs were removed for his escort to the waiting vehicle. “We won’t scare people,” he was told. He answered back that he preferred to wear them, for the neighbors had known him his entire life and were in good position to know whether he was a criminal or not. But off they came, and he was placed into the van—not one that said Police but one that bore the markings ‘Northern Roadway,’ as though off for a friendly commiseration with his former colleagues in law, though his smashed-in apartment balcony must have suggested otherwise.

They must have hoped to have kept it under wraps. They must have hoped to cast a pall upon the Witness community, but otherwise not suffer their deeds to see the light of day. How else can one account for such a hurried and stupid explanation, shortly thereafter, that the Witnesses had beaten themselves up (as only a sect member could do) to thwart the police investigation? “After the arrest and searches, they, under the direction of the lawyers who arrived in Surgut, got together and during the meeting struck each other, which could then be presented as evidence of torture,” one “insider” said, for ura.ru. “Well-known lawyers who specialize in representing the interests of the Jehovists throughout the country are involved in the case. Services each cost 5 million rubles. The main task is to ruin the criminal case, to attract public attention.”3 Of course! They must have figured that they had to say something, and quickly, for the accounts of the victims along with undeniable photo evidence4 were promptly showcased throughout the world, and the European Court of Human Rights demanded independent investigation.5

Local hospitals told the released victims that would be treated for their injuries, but that those injuries would not be documented.6 Plainly, they had been leaned upon by someone. Surgut, as determined by a rough atlas survey, is the 67th most populous city in Russia. Perhaps authorities hoped there wouldn’t be much of any support, legal or otherwise, for Witnesses way out there, instead of one of the victims actually being a lawyer. Another victim said one agent had told him: “We had to specifically come from Moscow for this.”7 Why couldn’t he have just stayed in Moscow, where Jehovah’s Witnesses surely are more numerous and are having just as great a challenge coping with the Orwellian law that says you can be a Jehovah’s Witness just so long as you do not do any of the things Jehovah’s Witnesses do, which apparently includes existing? No, to this writer, this episode has the earmarks of a deed meant to be done in a remote corner that unexpectedly turned out to be a world stage, necessitating a hasty (and clumsy) response.

Reported Znak.com: “The believers think that all of this was done with just one goal—to beat out "evidence necessary to the investigation" from those who had decided to exercise their right granted by the Russian constitution not to provide evidence against themselves and their associates.” A committee spokesman in the Khanty-Mansi region, Oleg Menshikh, told TASS news agency on February 20 that no law had been violated during the interrogations. “Nobody tortured them,” he said. “There was no physical or psychological pressure on them.”5 But two days later there was an about face, with the same official declaring that the government had decided to probe the claim “given the agitation that has arisen after publication of this information in the media.”8

That’s not entirely promising, a cynic might reply, and many did, was it not like saying: “Look, if they want an official document saying that we didn’t do it, we can comply with that”? So be it. Whose version of truth will prevail? From within the Nazi death camps, Jehovah’s Witnesses smuggled out detailed diagrams of their layout, and those were published in Watchtower magazines.9 They were disbelieved by other media outlets until post-liberation proved them all true. The Witnesses’ veracity is well established, even by those who don’t like them. On the other hand, stories of abuse, even torture, by Russian police are legion by groups of many different stripes.

Not everything pointed to a quick whitewash. Following an early meeting of the Investigative Committee, Vladimir Ermolaev, a department chief, told Znak.com: "I admit to you that what these people described at the meeting, with these horrible details, all of this shocked me….I cannot describe for you in detail, since nobody has authorized me to do so. But what they said, I registered it all, documented it. I will send all of these materials to the Investigation Department of the S.K.R. for Yugra and to the prosecutor's office of the region.”10 So time will tell.*

When the young boy cries “The emperor has no clothes!” and the latter in response just keeps on strutting his stuff, there’s not much one can do about it other than thoroughly documenting his nakedness and broadcasting it far and wide. This, the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses have done, most notably through their website. No wonder the urgent need of those who oppose to deprive them of organization.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are regarded by many as the canary in the coal mine. What happens to them may soon happen to others. Two American Mormon missionaries were deported in early March and there were reports that they might be next in line for wider persecution. However, Alexander Verkhovsky, one of the top Russian experts on extremism, xenophobia, nationalism, and human rights, wrote in March 2019, that Witnesses just might become a canary pointing in the other direction. “The growing campaign against Jehovah's Witnesses inspires horror, but it also gives a chance that this time someone will finally catch on and think. [The Witnesses] are too obviously not a threat to security and at the same time they are just as clearly impossible to “eradicate”, since more than 100,000 people cannot be imprisoned or forced out of the country, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have not given up on their faith during difficult times.”11 The situation is too ludicrous, and too unambiguous. The popular mind confuses Muslim groups in a non-Muslim country, so that peaceful Muslim groups are mistaken for groups that have done very bad things. Even Mormons cannot be said to be apolitical—in the United States, they are the most politically polarized of all faiths.12 But Jehovah’s Witnesses have claimed neutrality for their entire existence, and their “pacifist” stance is attested to by all. Just how dangerous can they be? Maybe the recent shocker of torture for a Christian group (Russians are used to it for Muslim activists suspected of “excessive radicalism,” Verkhovsky speculates) will cause the government to recalibrate.

Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses will hope for the best and ever be respectful of government, but they can be forgiven if they become jaded at the speculations of a quick turnaround. They have seen their country sail blithely past many buoys of ludicrousness. Did not Dennis Christensen say that he hoped the judge would be fair, “but he also [knew] what country he lived in?” Did not the country ban a Bible on the basis that it is not a Bible and the entire educated world knows that it is? Did not every interested person in the world see, via the Witness website, video evidence of Russian police in riot gear scaling fences to break down the door of a Kingdom Hall en route to arresting those inside, and the only ones refusing to see it were the ones that had a moral obligation to do so—the Russian Supreme Court? Maybe this buoy will be yet one more left in the wake of the unshamable ship.

Can the Russian authorities be shamed? Possibly not. The ban itself shames them, and they could see it come from miles away but embraced it anyway. The present reality harkens back to what columnist Andrew Sorokowski wrote prior to the ban: “Why would a nation of some 144,000,000 risk its international reputation to persecute a religious sect numbering no more than 175,000 followers?” Nonetheless, trash it they did and it is not so clear when or even if that course will reverse.13

Mr. Verkhovsky takes for granted that Jehovah’s Witnesses will not give up on their faith. How can they? They will recall the verse about paying Caesar’s things to Caesar but God’s things to God. They will think of the verse that says you do not fear the one who can kill the body and afterwards do no more. The one to fear is the one who can take away the soul.14

Though ever a small minority, many have protested the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses over the past two years. Atheists have held up banners in support of them. An activist from Kaliningradian scaled a lamppost to hang as sign proclaiming: “Jehovah's Witnesses are banned, they will also ban God.”15 Perhaps he is more accurate than he knows. Nikolai Gordienko, of the Herzen Russian State University in St. Petersburg, once stated “When the experts accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses for their teachings, they do not realize that they are actually making accusations against the Bible.”16 “Of course they are scared,” Yaroslav Sivulskiy tells a source. “But it does not mean that they will cease to be Jehovah's witnesses and do what is important to them…Jehovah's witnesses are good people, but they cannot abandon their faith when the state expects this refusal from them.”17

Just to keep things in perspective, for anyone can be too close to the forest to see the trees. Virtually all of Jehovah’s Witnesses were exiled to Siberia during the late 1940s and early 50s. Today, about 200 of them are detained out of a population of 170,000. It is outrageous, of course, and for many there is a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Still, terrible though it may be for those affected individuals, life goes on and most of the Russian Witnesses are not suffering. They are cautious, yes, but they have always been cautious. They know their country. They know their government. They know their police. They've had the potential for trouble for many years and have adjusted. For the vast majority, life goes on as usual: they work, they go to school, they marry, some have children, they visit family both Witnesses and non-Witnesses, they buy groceries, they play in the park.

They know they must be careful, but they have always known it. They note with approval the heightened world and national attention to their faith, even if some individuals endure more than their share of injustice. They strengthen their weak ones. A few have actually stated that the last two years have been good for them because it has strengthened their relationships with each other and with their God.

Russia is a huge country and not everyone plugs into the news. Many only vaguely know of the ban, many don’t care about it, and some, as seen above, actively don’t support it. Nor do they treat their JW acquaintances any differently because of it. This writer is told of one case where a school boss refused to dismiss a Witness employee, telling his superior that she is the best teacher he has, and he would hope for more like her. At a certain meeting location held in a private home, a Witnesses’ unbelieving husbands says: "Everybody knows that you are not extremists." That’s good to hear, for another aftermath of the Surgut episode is that one father of three, a firefighter, was thereafter fired from his job despite triggering no complaints over 20 years, joining many others of similar experience. “My three kids have been crying ever since the operatives barged down the door,” he said. “Now I have no job, but I am certain my God will show me a way through.”18

Says Sivulskiy: “law enforcement is making monstrous efforts to find clusters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in their small gatherings”—large assemblies are out of the question.19 But Russia is a monstrous country, and efforts have been sporadic. Will they diminish, level off, or intensify? Witnesses recently reconsidered Revelation 2:10: “Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days.” “Some” does not mean “all,” it was observed, as the Witnesses continue to show resolve amidst adversity. They don’t like what is happening, but they always knew that it might.

 

***~~~***

Every religion has its apostates. The trend now is that their activism is in direct proportion to the degree of firmness exercised within their former faith so as to encourage members to stay on the path that they have chosen. Apostates of the world have even united to wage common war against faiths they perceive as having similar attributes. And nobody has apostates more voracious than those of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Some members of this avid JW-opposer community gloated over this new development. By far, however, the tactics of torture were condemned by that group. Make no mistake, such condemnation is noted and appreciated, however it is also substantially watered down by the recognition that their goals are the same—that Jehovah’s Witnesses cease being Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is only in methods that they differ.

Spiritually speaking, is it not a situation of good cop/bad cop? They hope for the same outcome. The good cop is likely sincere that he does not want you to fall into the clutches of the bad cop, for he knows how bad that bad cop can be. But they both have the same goal. Physically, of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses will far prefer the good cop. They are not superhuman and nobody wants to be mistreated. Spiritually, however, the good and the bad cop is the same. In fact, the good cop may even be worse. A thug is a thug is a thug. His malice is unmistakable and is on plain display. He doesn’t masquerade as a friend whose only aim is to help you. He doesn’t patronize you with a concocted “us versus them” scenario from which he is trying to free you.

The mutual goal is that Jehovah’s Witnesses should no longer be Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is that talk about the hope of God’s kingdom should stop, and the grapes already on the vine should wither, and to that end there is an effort to strangle the support organization. To be sure, their methods differ. It is as though one faction says to another, “You’re going about it all wrong!” Yet the two factions are working in tandem, pressing for the same end.

As much as the saying goes that “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time,” sometimes you can get pretty close. The majority can be fooled for the longest time. If it were not so, then the prophets of old would not have had the time that they did—a time which was revisited upon Christians of the first century, and a time which is being revisited on Christians in Russia today:

“What more shall I say?” the Bible writer asks. “I have not time to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, did what was righteous, obtained the promises; they closed the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, escaped the devouring sword; out of weakness they were made powerful, became strong in battle….Some were tortured and would not accept deliverance, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others endured mockery, scourging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed in two, put to death at sword’s point; they went about in skins of sheep or goats, needy, afflicted, tormented. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered about in deserts and on mountains, in caves and in crevices in the earth.”20

Jehovah’s Witnesses will put the experience off as long as they can, thank you very much, but they do not imagine themselves outsmarting the scripture, nor Jesus words that his followers would be hated.

Anton Chivchalov, the individual who covered court proceedings via tweet at five minute intervals, per personal email to this writer, offers a gloomy assessment of how Russians view Jehovah’s Witnesses, notwithstanding that there are some who see right through it. “In Russia there are many myths about Jehovah's Witnesses that 99% people believe,” he writes. “They break up families, take people's property, kill their own children by refusing blood transfusion, American spies, want to overturn the government, etc. This is mostly the cause of the hate.”

“Can it really be that high? what with Putin‘s recent statement of seeming support and at least a certain amount of favorable press? Are the human rights people, supportive journalists, and religious scholars all viewed as rabble-rousers?” I asked.

“Yes,” Chivchalov answered. “They are too few. General public still hates Witnesses and approves of the repressions.21 And many people hate human rights movements too (thinking they work for the US).” Jehovah’s people are not wildly popular anywhere, but it appears that in Russia they face the most unhinged opposition, against which they are standing strong. They have this writer’s undying respect.

Timofei Zhukov the Jehovah’s Witness hauled down to the police station where fellow congregation members were tortured, had this to say to Kommersant: “I will tell you, not as a believer, but as a lawyer—these investigators and [F.S.B agents] esfesbeshniki simply do not know what they are doing. The did not understand anything—whom they are coming to search. what kind of people these are, what they are accused of. It seems that the authorities told them: “There are bad people live there and they are corrupting the state system. Go and do what you want with them.” Where did they get the idea that Jehovah’s Witnesses were bad people?

After the ordeal, Mr. Zhukov spoke with some of his former colleagues, who encouraged him to desist from “such nonsense.” He told them that Witnesses were doing their work for them to a great extent. “You are investigating crime, but you have a problem with prevention. And I come to people and I say: ‘It is bad to steal. It is bad to lie. It is bad to smoke.’” They are not bad people. They are good people. Jerod Kushner, the U.S. President’s son-in-law, well prior to his political days, said of the Jehovah’s Witnesses from whom he would buy property that they were persons of “high integrity” with whom “a handshake deal meant something.” The journalists of Present Time comment to the director of the Sova Center Alexander Verkhovsky, after hearing his description: “Then they look like perfect citizens.” “You see, they would be ideal citizens in some other country,” is the latter’s reply.22 They are not bad people. They are good people. So from where comes the perception that they are bad people?

It is a question that might well have been asked in the first century. The historian Tacitus writes the following about the persecution of Christians after Nero pinned the blame upon them for burning down Rome: "Therefore, to stop the rumor [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition - repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, - where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, whither all things horrible and disgraceful flow from all quarters, as to a common receptacle, and where they are encouraged. Accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of "hating the human race." In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own garden players for the spectacle, and exhibited a Circensian game, indiscriminately mingling with the common people in the dress of a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. For this cause a feeling of compassion arose towards the sufferers, though guilty and deserving of exemplary capital punishment, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public good, but were victims of the ferocity of one man."23

Note the dim view of Christians, fully shared by Tacitus. They were “hated for their enormities.” They were readily thought to be persons “hating the human race.” They were the deluded followers of a “pernicious superstition.” The cruel wrath of Nero unleashed genuine compassion, however they were regarded “guilty and deserving of exemplary capital punishment.” How could this have been perceived of Christ’s followers only 35 years after his death?

Professor G. A. Wells, author of The Jesus Myth, writes that “the context of Tacitus’ remarks itself suggests that he relied on Christian informants.”24 Who could possibly have been their “informants?” They could not have been faithful members, for these would not “inform.” They could not have been non-members, for these would not have anything to “inform” about. There is little left to choose from other than former disgruntled members—today (and then) we would call them “apostates.” These came to wish their former faith ill. Perhaps some of them even posed as reformers of that faith, whistleblowers to whatever upset them—particularly if they had been ousted for conduct contrary to tenets of the faith.

The parallels are too blatant to ignore. If it was they in former times, how can it not be they in present times? How else can such a manifestly good people—in the first century and in the present—be so widely portrayed as bad? It is the “apostates” that present that picture of good portrayed as bad. It is the apostates that spark the conflagration, with unrelenting and incendiary charges. Any student of human nature knows that if you repeat a charge often enough, no matter how unlikely, it impresses itself on the general populace. Surely advertising teaches us that. The match doesn’t catch everywhere, but in Russia if finds the kindling just right—a government hostile for 100 years to the land in which Witness headquarters is located, at the same time in close union with the dominant house church, hostile to even traditional Christian faiths. It doesn’t happen everywhere. But the apostates ever light the match to encourage conflagration and sometime the planets align.

The religious enemies of the Jesus’ day had to be careful: “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled...and they consulted together to arrest Jesus by treachery and put him to death. But they said: ‘Not during the festival, that there may not be a riot among the people.’”25 They could have done it at the festival had the festival been held in Russia. There wouldn’t have been a riot. There would have been widespread approval. They could have done it at the festival had the festival been held in Rome, too. There was widespread approval back then—such is the change in popular perception wrought by then and now apostates.

Kommersant asked Mr. Zhukov why the government persecutes his people, and he told them that he didn’t really know—he could speculate, but he didn’t really know.26 It was the same answer as President Putin himself offered just two months ago—he didn’t really know why Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted. Mr. Zhukov did note however, that early Christians, too, were called “sectarians” and that they, too, had been persecuted.

Even the Russian president can’t figure it out! Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writes that his “comments are hard to explain other than as an expression of genuine puzzlement over so much effort being expended to eliminate an evidently nonexistent threat.”27 How can it not be the machinations of someone devious? What arguments does that international community of apostates/opposers to the faith make? They are settling the score, largely, in the cases of those who were disfellowshipped, spinning for an irreligious world the myth that Jehovah’s Witnesses break up families, a point of view that was not accepted by the European Court of Human Rights: “It is the resistance and unwillingness of non-religious family members to accept and to respect their religious relative’s freedom to manifest and practice his or her religion that is the source of conflict.”28 Many, even most today, will look askance at any scenario in which spiritual considerations can trigger a family divide—no matter from which side it arises, but they will not think it an evil that compares with global terrorism. Families have divided since the beginning of time, often for matters far more fleeting than religion. In the West, it is not uncommon for the elderly to be abandoned in nursing homes, never to be contacted again, for no greater reason that they have become inconvenient. It is not something in which governments typically wish to meddle.

No, it makes no sense, the mass portrayal of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “bad people.” If they refuse blood transfusions, surely it must be acknowledged somewhere along the line that progressive doctors have learned to accommodate their point of view, and it so doing, they have devised medicine that is both safer and more cost-effective.29 And, though it has played no part in Russia, a widespread war against child sexual abuse finds Jehovah’s Witness “clergy” accused of covering up pedophilia. This is an unsavory thing, yet they come off almost as knights in shining armor when compared to religious denominations in general in which the leaders themselves have been the pedophile abusers.30 The “us versus them” scenario avidly advanced by apostates has caught on. Roman Silantyev of Moscow State Linguistic University complains that “this sect promotes external and inner extremism, inciting hatred to those who think and believe in a different way and bullying their own members,” and even hopes that “recognizing this sect as extremist [will give] a possibility to dozens of our citizens to leave this concentration camp.” He has been conditioned to misunderstand everything. Jehovah’s Witnesses will continue to carry out the tenets of their religious beliefs “because they are operating out of faith rather than compulsion.”31

Silantyev is “crazy” and yet his craziness has spread to influence those whom you would think would not be crazy to act in crazy ways. Writes Bandow: “Moscow denies that it is persecuting JWs for their beliefs. Rather, explained Vyacheslav Lebedev, chief justice of the Russian Supreme Court, ‘the situation is actually being presented as if these people are being persecuted for their belief and religious activity. Yet the decision, which was made by the Supreme Court amongst others, is unrelated to religion. It is about a violation of the law, which religious organizations have no right to breach.’ The law bans the faith, so punishing them for exercising their faith is merely punishing a violation of the law. This argument is perfectly Orwellian. Translating Lebedev: We declared your religious faith to be extremist, and you are not allowed to be extremists. So we are arresting you for being extremists. But feel free to practice your faith and have a good day.”

This writer would be a wealthy individual indeed if he had a few dollars for every disgruntled ex-Witness who, upon failing to turn the JW ship in the direction of his choosing, went on scorch the JW earth with terminology from George Orwell’s 1984. Witnesses practice “doublethink” and have “thought police” who sniff out ones committing “thoughtcrime,” or even ones who fail to do “goodthink” (thought approved by the party). It is an intensification of a trend seen everywhere: failing to sway the other side and consequently declaring them “arrogant.” Yet the first actual instance of 1984 comes, not from Jehovah’s Witnesses, but from those who oppose them. If memory serves, was not Mr. O’Brien a pleasant and refined man on the surface, posing as Winston’s friend, before revealing his true character—and thus combining both good cop and bad cop into a single character?

***~~~***

*In fact, the Russian investigation into torture found, in a very short time, that there was nothing to it at all.32

From the ebook: Dear Mr. Putin – Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia

 

Endnotes:

  1. Alexander Chernykh, “We are the same people as you, but now we are called criminals and extremists,” Kommersant, March 1, 2019, accessed March 15, 2019, https://kommersant.ru/doc/3899000
  2. Oliver Carroll, “Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Allege ‘21’st Century Inquistion’ Amid Claims of Torture,” Independent, February 21, 2019, accessed March 15, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-jehovahs-witness-crackdown-surgut-religion-discrimination-a8790761.html
  3. Dmity Zayayov, “Source: Jehovah's Witnesses, Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug, are trying to ruin a criminal case with accusations against security officials,” Ura.News, February 28, 2019, accessed March 15, 2019, https://ura.news/news/1052374340
  4. Lev Pomomarev, “Read and Watch,” blog post for echo.msk.ru, February 26, 2019, assessed March 15, 2019, https://echo.msk.ru/blog/lev_ponomarev/2378667-echo/
  5. “ECHR Imposes Interim Measures in Response to Torture Complaint From Surgut,” jw-russia.org, February 27, 2019
  6. Matthew Luxmoore, “‘Time Becomes a Blur When You’re Experiencing Great Pain’: Russian Jehovah’s Witness Alleges Police Torture,” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, February 22, 2019
  7. Jason Lemon, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Tortured With Electric Shocks and Suffocation in Russia, Church Says” Newsweek, February 23, 2019
  8. “Russia Says it Will Probe Jehovah’s Witnesses Torture Claim,” apnews.com, February 23, 2019, accessed March 19, 2019, https://apnews.com/f43f396dac9c4159987493f92123a3f9
  9. Also, see Crusade Against Christianity, (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1938) . Regarding this book, the 1965 Watchtower volume, December 1, 1965 issue, recalls on page 733: “Meantime in Germany, the Nazi fury rages and our brothers are exposed to frightful, inhuman persecution, which they withstand even at the cost of their lives. Documented material that reaches our office about such persecution is carefully preserved. Then Brother Rutherford approves publishing a book giving the evidence of the sufferings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany. It appears under the title “Kreuzzug gegen das Christentum in the German language. It is also published in French and Polish.” See some of diagrams at “The Evils of Nazism Exposed,” Awake!, August 22, 1995, 11.
  10. ”Stories of Surgut "Jehovah's Witnesses" about torture in the TFR shocked the Ugra Ombudsman,” Znak.com, February 25, 2019, accessed March 16, 2019, https://www.znak.com/2019-02-25/rasskazy_surgutskih_svideteley_iegovy_o_pytkah_v_skr_shokirovali_yugorskogo_ombudsmena
  11. Alexander Verkhovsky, “The Fight Against Religious Extremism’ all Widers, Need to be Narrowed Down,” ng.ru, March 5, 2019

 

  1. Michael Lipka, “U.S. Religious Groups and Their Political Leanings,” Pew Research Center, February 23, 2016, accessed March 9, 2019
  2. Andrew Sorokowski, “Witnesses to Persecution,” Religious Information Service of Ukraine, May 5, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, https://risu.org.ua/article_print.php?id=66964&name=asorokowski_column&_lang=en&
  3. Matthew 10:28
  4. ”They Will Also Ban God,” klops.ru, Mrch 9, 2019, accessed March 11, 2019, https://news.rambler.ru/other/41842016
  5. Emily P. Baran, Dissent on the Margins - How Jehovah’s Witnesses Defied Communism and Lived to Preach About It (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 240
  6. Anna Ryzhova, "Get Rid of Witnesses," Russian-reporter, February 25, 2019, accessed March 16, 2019, http://expert.ru/russian_reporter/2019/03/izbavitsya-ot-svidetelej/
  7. Oliver Carroll, “Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Allege ‘21’st Century Inquistion’ Amid Claims of Torture,” Independent, February 21, 2019, accessed March 15, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-jehovahs-witness-crackdown-surgut-religion-discrimination-a8790761.html
  8. Anna Ryzhova, "Get Rid of Witnesses," Russian-reporter, February 25, 2019, accessed March 16, 2019, http://expert.ru/russian_reporter/2019/03/izbavitsya-ot-svidetelej/
  9. Hebrews 11:32-38
  10. Chivchalov’s comment does not entirely square with remarks I made above (based upon the visits of a personal acquaintance who has traveled in Russia) but I believe it is a case of no one person seeing the entire picture. Plainly the ‘99%’ is hyperbole. The title says it all in this Moscow Times article: “Many Russians Don’t Know the Jehovah’s Witnesses, But They Still Want Them Banned” (themoscowtimes.com, July 13, 2017). Chivchalov himself said at the time that it depends upon how the subject is breached. If it is just a matter of shooing away uninvited callers, most Russians will say yes. But if it is a matter of sending those ones to jail, they will not go that far.
  11. www.currenttime.tv/a/Jehovah-witnesses-Russia/29785245.html
  12. Tacitus, Annals, 117 c.e.
  13. G. A. Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus, (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1982) 17
  14. Mathew 26: 3-5
  15. Alexander Chernykh, “We Are the Same”
  16. Bandow, Doug, “Persecutors Pile on Jehovah’s Witnesses, in Russia and Worldwide,” nationalreview.com, March 1, 2019, assessed March 21, 2019, https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/03/jehovahs-witnesses-persecuted-russia-worldwide
  17. Willie Fautre, “Cults and Religious Freedom Around the World,” address to the ICSA Annual International Conference, Montreal Canada, July 5-7, 2012, accessed March 21, 2019, https://www.academia.edu/5201173/Cult_Issues_and_Religous_Freedom
  18. “An Act of Faith in the Operating Room,” New Scientist, April 26, 2008
  19. See the category https://www.tomsheepandgoats.com/pedophiles (by this author)
  20. Doug Bandow, “Persecutors Pile”
  21. ”The Examination Found No Signs of Torture in the Follower of “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” RIA Novosti, Moscow, March 21, 2019

00

photo: Wikipedia commons

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The Apostle Meanders as Usual - or Does He?

The apostle writes, in chapter 8 of the first letter to the Corinthians, about not doing what one has every right to do so as not to stumble new or weak ones: 

“Now concerning foods offered to idols: we know we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up....we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no God but one...Nevertheless, there is not this knowledge in all persons; but some, being accustomed until now to the idol, eat food as something sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.  (8:2-8)

“He is still at it in chapter 10! Talk about long-winded!

“Everything that is sold in a meat market keep eating, making no inquiry on account of YOUR conscience; but if anyone should say to you: “This is something offered in sacrifice,” do not eat on account of the one that disclosed it and on account of conscience.  Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the other person. (10:25-33)

But the chapter in between—he meanders off into something totally different! It’s his modus operandi—meandering all over about everything. Or does it only seem like he is meandering? 

Excerpts from the chapter in between, 9: “What soldier ever serves at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who shepherds a flock and does not partake of some of the milk of the flock?” (vs 7)

Nobody. They never do it.

“Am I saying these things from a human viewpoint? Or does not the Law also say these things?  For it is written in the Law was a of Moses: “You must not muzzle a bull when it is threshing out the grain.” Is it bulls that God is concerned about?” (8-9)

Well, I guess so. I mean, that’s what it says.

“Or is it actually for our sakes that he says it? It was really written for our sakes, because the man who plows and the man who threshes ought to do so in the hope of receiving a share.” (10)

Oh yeah, that’s right.

“If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material support from you?  If other men have this rightful claim over you, do we not have it much more so?” (10-11)

It almost sounds like he is angling for a paycheck. Or is he?

“Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we are enduring all things so that we might not in any way hinder the good news about the Christ.” (12)

No, apparently not. He doesn’t in any way want to “hinder the good news about the Christ.”

“Do you not know that the men performing sacred duties eat the things of the temple, and that those regularly serving at the altar receive a share from the altar?  In this way, too, the Lord commanded for those proclaiming the good news to live by means of the good news.” (13-14)

Wait. Now it seems like he is going back to a paycheck.

“But I have not made use of a single one of these provisions. Indeed, I have not written these things so that this would be done for me, for it would be better to die than—no man will take away my grounds for boasting!” (15)

No. I guess not. What does he mean about boasting?

“Now if I am declaring the good news, it is no reason for me to boast, for necessity is laid upon me. Really, woe to me if I do not declare the good news!” (16)

Okay, it is not about the fact that he is preaching.

“If I do this willingly, I have a reward; but even if I do it against my will, I still have a stewardship entrusted to me.  What, then, is my reward? That when I declare the good news, I may offer the good news without cost, to avoid abusing my authority in the good news.” (17-18)

Is it that he does it without cost?

“For though I am free from all people, I have made myself the slave to all, so that I may gain as many people as possible.”

Looks that way. Slaves don’t pull down a paycheck, after all, and he has made himself one.

“To the Jews I became as a Jew in order to gain Jews; to those under law I became as under law, though I myself am not under law, in order to gain those under law.  To those without law I became as without law, although I am not without law toward God but under law toward Christ, in order to gain those without law.  To the weak I became weak, in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to people of all sorts, so that I might by all possible means save some.  But I do all things for the sake of the good news, in order to share it with others.” (20-23)

Okay. He does whatever he has to do to cater to those to whom he visits.

“Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.  Now everyone competing in a contest exercises self-control in all things. Of course, they do it to receive a crown that can perish, but we, one that does not perish.  Therefore, the way I am running is not aimlessly; the way I am aiming my blows is so as not to be striking the air...” (24-26)

“but I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.” (27)

It’s as though he says: “And you people are whining about food? Look at Barnabas and me.” So chapter 9 is not such a meandering after all. Rather, it is an example of how putting oneself out in a small way is nothing compared to putting oneself out in a large way, like he was doing.

It all comes together at the end: “even as I am pleasing all people in all things, not seeking my own advantage but that of the many, in order that they might get saved.” (10:33)

And—it is just me?—I cannot help but think of Hester Prynne, from The Scarlet Letter:

“It is remarkable, that persons who speculate the most boldly often conform with the most perfect quietude to the external regulations of society. The thought suffices them, without investing itself in the flesh and blood of action.”

Isn’t it? You don’t whine and cry over small things, as though these are the things by which you are defined. You do these things without fuss so as to focus on the big things. They are not at all in the same class. Even an accumulation of the small things does not equate to one of the big things. They are on different planes.

042CBD8F-EDF2-4329-AC12-45A41E847E4D

 

More Corinthians here

 

 

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Skirmish #225330. A Deadbeat Drunk

Yeah! once again, the Terminator, brash as he is, nails it.

I like this reproduced letter, and judging from the wording, I even imagine I know which helper wrote it:

While I appreciate the concern of the brother who “witnessed” this, I also have some concerns about the assumptions made. Please keep in mind, there are a number of circumstances that others may not be aware of. For example, using the purchase in connection with visitors, graduates from Gilead or the Branch Committee School. Also, over what period of time will these [bottles] be used? As far as dedicated funds, some of our brothers had businesses prior to coming to Bethel....

One can be forgiven for imagining that Ryan is having steamy sex over in his domain, so orgasmic is he over this. He has posted TWELVE (at least) separate topics about this!

He is among the ones (those who have gone atheistic) who lectures everyone else about his superior skills of critical thinking. And yet he so clearly—you couldn’t ask for a better example—lets his wishful thinking drag him along as with hooks in his jaws. He leads with his heart, not with his head at all.

Look, IF the brother was a deadbeat flatout drunkard on someone else’s dime, then yes, this is a video that would be consistent with it. But BECAUSE there exists such a video, the reverse is not by any means true. Far more likely is it that one of the factors the Bethel helper mentions is the reality.

Anybody who knows how to think knows this is so, and yet Ryan does not know it. He knows what he wants to think, and that is enough for him to fit any circumstance into his foregone conclusion. And yet he would boast of his “critical thinking” skills.

“While I appreciate the concern of the brother who “witnessed” this, I also have some concerns about the assumptions made. Please keep in mind, there are a number of circumstances that others may not be aware of,” the helper says.

No alcoholic could guzzle liquor the way Ryan guzzles assumptions. And yet he would tell us that he has broken away from religion and has learned to use his intellect!

He is either incredibly deceitful or incredibly stupid. Take your pick.

3966EC16-B8B2-4FB9-A227-FB05DFB656EA

 

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The Inspiration of the ‘Serenity Prayer’?

“Were you called when a slave? Do not let it worry you; but if you can also become free, rather seize the opportunity.” (1 Corinthians 7:21) 

I like this. Improve your circumstances if you have opportunity, but if not, don’t worry about it; it is not the overriding issue, because: “anyone in [the] Lord that was called when a slave is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he that was called when a freeman is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; stop becoming slaves of men” 

as though THEIR arrangements were the meaningful ones. 

Seldom is there slavery today—it is illegal, but there are plenty of circumstances of economic slavery that are very hard on people. The verse is actually no more than the ‘Serenity prayer’ about changing what one can, accepting what one can’t, and being smart enough to know the difference. 

Perhaps it is even the inspiration for it.

155893DA-6D62-49F1-A262-11A67921DEF3

More Corinthians here

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Skimish #268295 High Living for the GB

Imagine, Nemo trying to spin it that they live high on the hog there at HQ! What is wrong with him?

During my years at Bethel, two GB members came down with pneumonia. Nobody could figure out why, because they had perfectly good space heaters for their pup tents. It turned out that, even though the temperature had been in the teens for days, they had kept them off so as not to waste dedicated funds.

Three of them got hand fungus from the hours they spent every day on foot-washing detail.

Two of them subsisted on honey and locusts. Four pressed their clothes with bricks so as not to waste electricity on ironing.

One of them winced when I said ‘hello’ and I learned afterwards that he only says “greetings” because “hello” has “hell” in it.

He winced even more and permanently injured his back carrying my bags to my room when I arrived, even though I told him I had brought my anvil collection.

One of them, when I had a flat tire, gave me a wheel off his car, and then had to walk through the sleet to the airport, where he strapped himself to a wing of the plane to save money and flew to Portugal to serve as keynote speaker there.

Still another one I visited in his tent, and he offered me a cup of coffee. As I sipped mine he diluted his to make it last longer.

These brothers make more self-sacrifice in a day than Nemo does in a year.

~~~

I got about a minute into the clip that Wilma sent,  maybe a minute and a half, and I noticed three things about it.

1) Nemo is extremely pleased with himself.

2) In his brief exchange about pants, where he somehow caught Bro Mo on the phone, (just THAT says something - that he takes a call from an unknown “brother” with unspecified concerns, instead of it being handled well down the line by some support staff) the latter comes across as warm, engaging, and not in the slightest bit full of himself (as Nemo DOES seem) - “No, call the branch,” he laughs, “and I’d better not see you guys wearing them,” he quips, and “You’re kidding me, right?” It was impossible not to warm to the guy.

3) Nemo’s cooing concern of how difficult it is for an ordinary person, such as he, to speak with a GB member (notwithstanding that he had just done it), as though an 8:000,000 to 1 ratio meant nothing at all. In fact, apparently it is an 8 billion ratio to 1 that he expects anybody to be able to waltz through, since he said at the outset that he is not among the 8 million. 

The guy is too infantile to endure, and I got no further. I mean, this thing runs 17 minutes.

4) (Yeah, I know I said 3, but I thought of another) Wilma’s ridiculous assumption that she has landed a major blow. “Here’s one for you, TTH,” she says, with no doubt whatsoever that I am going to clear the calendar and patiently analyze it, doubtless running it through several times so that all of her insinuations sink in. Wilma, who I simply asked a couple of questions of, and who thereafter regarded me as her star pupil for a time, and expressed such disappointment when she found that it was not so. I mean, this is a very strange woman. 

~~~

Jimmy: TTH: “The guy is too infantile to endure, and I got no further. I mean, this thing runs 17 minutes.”

The point is that that in 17 minutes I can read 20 times as much, without having to endure an unpleasant personality.

Jimmy: Doya think it might have something to do with your attention span being about a minute and a half?

No. I think it has something to do with his being that way.

Taunting me, when I mentioned that I read plenty of non-JW material, he asked: “Which of the three major atheist books do you find the most compelling?”

I replied: “Which of Dickens’ novels do you find the most compelling? Which of the Greek tragedies do you find the most compelling?”

The shallow idiot. And I should watch him for 17 minutes when he is too lazy to put his information into written form, the way every intelligent person on the planet has done since the beginning of history? That’s why he is crying so about being denied the “right” to steal Bethel’s content so as to put it into his own framed context—he’s too dull to describe it himself as any credible chronicler must do.

I have you to do that, and following the thread with some less biased people who CAN suffer through it, I can pretty well piece things together.

Call it “forensic research.” Scientists do it all the time and we are called dodos if we do not eat up every word.

~~~

Okay, as for my only actual exchange with one of the GB, which I related in the ebook Tom Irregardless and Me:

"I once crossed paths with a member of the Governing Body, sort of. By odd coincidence, one of my pals has the same first and last name as one of that group. Only the middle initial is different. My friend entered Bethel around 1980 and later married. My wife and I sent him a card on his first wedding anniversary, and it was the Governing Body member who replied! He thanked us for our kind wishes, he related how he and his wife had been traveling, how they’d been to Australia for the District Convention, and then Africa - boy, he sure gets around for being just a year at Bethel, we thought. Funny, the wives’ names didn’t match. Ah, well – maybe someone has a nickname. How could we have known? Here is a Governing Body member taking time to respond to a card, writing a few chatty paragraphs to people he does not know, not willing to risk hurt anyone’s feelings. I mean, these are not pretentious people."

 

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Photo: CBS television as published on Wikipedia Commons

 
 
 
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The Treachery of my Brother

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My brother’s treachery knew no bounds even as a child. I was the undisputed leader of the gang controlling betting on Scrabble. It was my gang. MINE! I even had a special gesture that, when I made it, everybody knew that they had to listen up.

 

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Even before the little weasel made a grab for my position, he showed himself ambitious and scheming. I had to lean into him hard and stare him down frequently.

 

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It did no good. He took advantage of my helping a little old lady across the street to horn in as the new gang leader! He even stole my secret signal! When I got back, I had to take a place in the line, where I just hung my head.

 

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I came soooo close once to ramming his smug face into his birthday cake, but my Dad came along and stopped me. He was a bad dad.

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